Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

Deal heads off Tory revolt over same-sex marriage

Plans to allow same-sex marriage in the UK have survived a Tory backlash after a fraught debate in the House of Commons.

An amendment which supporters warned could derail the legislation was defeated after the Government reached an agreement with Labour. The Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill now looks set to be approved by MPs today – but is still likely to meet stiff resistance in the House of Lords.

A bid by a Tory opponent of gay marriage to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples attracted 70 supporters in a free vote – far fewer than the 100-plus anticipated by some critics.

Ex-minister Tim Loughton insisted it was not a "wrecking amendment" and was a move backed by the public and many advocates of same-sex marriage.

But the change – which Culture Secretary Maria Miller said would impose delays and costs – was defeated by a majority of 305.

Fears the reforms could be scuppered were eased after Mrs Miller indicated she would accept Labour calls for an immediate review of civil partnerships.

Downing Street said it was "entirely consistent" with Mrs Miller's own amendment pledging a review five years after the introduction of gay marriage.

It was seen as sufficient to persuade Labour MPs – most of whom support the reforms – not to vote in favour of Mr Loughton's amendment. Deputy PM Nick Clegg said it was Liberal Democrat policy that civil partnerships should be available to heterosexual couples but would not back amendments to derail the Bill.

Labour sources had initially indicated they expected the party's MPs to abstain but later switched to voting against after an appeal from the Government that it "did not have the numbers".

"Ed Miliband's priority is to ensure the equal marriages bill gets on to the statute book," the sources said.

An amendment to allow church schools to reflect their "religious character" in their teaching about marriage was backed by the DUP, SDLP and independent Lady Sylvia Hermon.

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