MPs back gay marriage bill

Campaigners Martin Brown (L) and Archie Young embrace during a demonstration for a yes vote to allow gay marriage, as they protest outside Parliament in London today. Photograph: Reuters

Campaigners Martin Brown (L) and Archie Young embrace during a demonstration for a yes vote to allow gay marriage, as they protest outside Parliament in London today. Photograph: Reuters

Tue, Feb 5, 2013, 00:00

MPs voted to back British prime minister's David Cameron’s plan to legalise gay marriages today after a Commons debate which exposed the depth of the split within his conservative party over the issue.

The Commons voted by 400 to 175, majority 225, to give the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill a second reading.

Culture secretary Maria Miller said the legislation for England and Wales would create a “fairer place to live” but insisted that religions which objected to the plans would not be forced to conduct same-sex ceremonies.

She claimed it was “simply inconceivable” that the European Court of Human Rights would unpick the Government’s “quadruple lock” aimed at protecting religions who did not wish to opt-in to the proposals.

In a late intervention just two hours before MPs voted, the prime minister made a televised statement to say the move was about “making our society

stronger”.

But the debate heard from a number of prominent Tory critics of the proposals who argued they undermined marriage, would alienate voters and could damage the party’s election prospects.

Although MPs from all three major parties were split over whether to support the proposals, it was the division within the Tory party that was most evident during the debate.

Speaking in Downing Street less than two hours before the crunch vote, Mr Cameron accepted that there were “strong views on both sides of the argument”.

But he said: “I am a strong believer in marriage. It helps people commit to each other and I think it is right that gay people should be able to get married too.

“This is, yes, about equality. But it is also about making our society stronger.

“I know there are strong views on both side of the argument - I accept that. But I think this is an important step forward for our country.”

Mr Cameron did not attend the debate, but Downing Street had indicated that he would be voting.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “This is a proud day and an important step forward in the fight for equality in Britain.

“The overwhelming majority of Labour MPs supported this change to make sure marriage reflects the value we place on long-term, loving relationships whoever you love.

“Equal marriage builds on Labour’s successes in Government which include the repeal of Section 28, equalising the age of consent, the introduction of civil partnerships and changes to the rules governing adoption.”

PA