British PM David Cameron ‘proud’ of gay marriage bill but economy now focus

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 May, 2013, 9:38pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 May, 2013, 9:43pm

British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday he was proud MPs had voted to back gay marriage but admitted the debate has been divisive and said his focus would now be on economic matters.

The Conservative leader offered an olive branch to party activists opposed to the same-sex marriage bill by promising there would be no more laws on social issues before the next election in 2015.

“If you are saying to me, ‘Is this the first of many other issues like that?’, no it isn’t,” Cameron told BBC radio, the day after the bill cleared a crucial parliamentary hurdle.

He also restated his commitment to the three-year-old coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, whose socially liberal, pro-European Union views are at odds with those of many traditionalist Tory voters.

“The government now is going to be absolutely focused on the big picture, which is fixing our economy and reforming our welfare, making sure there are good schools for our children to go to,” Cameron said.

He added: “To anyone who doubts the life there is left in the coalition, I would argue there is more to come. Very bold reforming and strong government, and that is what we will be right up till polling day.”

The next general election is scheduled for May 2015.

Members of the House of Commons voted late on Tuesday by 366 votes to 161 to back gay marriage, despite efforts by Tory MPs to derail the bill. It will now be debated in the House of Lords, the upper house of parliament.

Cameron admitted the issue “clearly divides the country” and “certainly divides the Conservative party”, after 133 Tories voted against the legislation.

But he said there was “plenty of room” in his party for differing opinions, while stressing that it was right that Britain legislate for gay marriage just as France and New Zealand had recently done.

“I’m proud of the fact that this legislation has now passed the House of Commons,” the prime minister said.

He added: “There will be young boys in schools today who are gay, who are worried about being bullied, who are worried about what society thinks of them, who can see that the highest parliament in the land has said that their love is worth the same as anybody else’s love and that we believe in equality.

“I think they will stand that bit taller today and I’m proud of the fact that that has happened.”

Cameron also brushed off a recent Tory rebellion over his European policy, insisting that his party was united on the need for a referendum on Britain’s EU membership.

The internal Conservative rows have put pressure on the coalition government, but Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he had no intention of throwing in the towel.

“I am absolutely committed to this coalition lasting until 2015,” Clegg said in a speech on Wednesday.

But he criticised the “game-playing over Europe and gay marriage” and insisted: “It’s time to get back to governing.”