Lawmakers in David Cameron’s U.K. Conservative Party, who voted against him last week over his policy toward the European Union, were on course to oppose him again, over plans to introduce gay marriage.
Amendments backed by Conservative opponents of the bill were defeated in initial votes today before key votes set for about 10 p.m. in the House of Commons in London on proposals that the government said could wreck the legislation.
Nick Herbert, a Conservative lawmaker and supporter of the bill, told the BBC it was causing “unease” among older party members. “Absolutely none of us either want to upset or lose activists, and certainly what I would like to do is to reassure them that this is a bill that does no harm at all,” he said.
The gay-marriage votes came less than a week after 116 Conservatives made history by voting to express “regret” that there was no mention of a referendum on EU membership in the government’s legislative program. They were defeated thanks to the support of Liberal Democrat and opposition Labour Party lawmakers. The Times and Telegraph newspapers reported that afterward a senior Conservative described Tory activists as “mad swivel-eyed loons.” Andrew Feldman, the party’s co-chairman, issued a statement denying it was him.
In three early-evening votes, amendments including one that would have allowed registrars to refuse to conduct the ceremonies were defeated by margins of two-to-one.
Activists say Cameron’s backing for gay marriage is driving Conservative voters to support the U.K. Independence Party, which made gains in local elections this month at the expense of the ruling parties.
A poll by Survation released today put support for the Conservatives at 24 percent and UKIP at 22 percent. That’s the lowest for the Tories since before the 2010 election. Labour were at 35 percent. Survation interviewed 1,000 people online May 17-18.
In the gay-marriage bill’s last appearance in Parliament on Feb. 5, 136 Tories voted against, while 127 voted in favor. It too was passed with help from the Liberal Democrats, the junior partners in the ruling coalition, and Labour.
One of the amendments put down for debate involves extending civil partnerships to heterosexual couples, which the government said could delay the bill by two years as the public is consulted further.
Culture Secretary Maria Miller said the amendment “would throw up significant challenges,” calling it a “complication that is not necessary at this point in time.”
Tim Loughton, a Conservative opponent of gay marriage who tabled the amendment, denied it was aimed at “wrecking” the bill. “This bill, whatever we think about it, introduces a glaring inequality,” he told the BBC. “If it goes through, as I’m sure it will, then opposite-sex couples will only have access to marriage, but same-sex couples will not have access to the new form of marriage and civil partnerships.”
Labour’s equalities spokeswoman, Yvette Cooper, said the party will put down its own amendment calling for a review of civil partnerships as an alternative to Loughton’s. This could mean his proposal fails to get the support it needs to pass.
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