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PM under pressure over gay marriage

David Cameron is facing renewed pressure over allowing gay marriage as a Tory grassroots group warned that he was alienating the party and a former Cabinet minister questioned his focus.

In a letter to the Sunday Telegraph, the Conservative Grassroots group expressed a "deep concern" about "the negative effect of the gay marriage Bill on both Conservative Party morale and electoral appeal."

The letter called on peers to reject the the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which arrives in the Lords on Monday for the start of what is expected to be a stormy passage through the upper chamber.

It survived a Commons backlash when 130 Tory backbenchers opposed the move.

In the letter, Robert Woollard, chairman of Conservative Grassroots, wrote: "It (allowing gay marriage) is alienating much of our core support while failing to attract new voters with under two years to go before the general election."

He went on: "Long-serving party members - many of whom have had the responsibility of bringing up children themselves - believe that the family lies at the heart of Conservative values. The golden inheritance of every previous generation, that has been lovingly handed down to us, is now being smashed on the anvil of 'equality and fairness'."

Meanwhile, former Tory Cabinet minister Lord Mawhinney said the advice the Prime Minister was getting was not "politically astute" and that Mr Cameron himself said before the election that he would not allow gay marriage. He urged the PM to prioritise the economy and education.

But Mr Cameron's position was bolstered by the support of several senior Conservative figures who called on colleagues not to "hinder a measure whose time has come". Six former ministers - including five veterans of Margaret Thatcher's cabinets - argued in a letter to The Times that allowing same-sex marriage would strengthen the institution.

The pro-same-sex marriage letter was signed by Tory former cabinet ministers Lord Fowler, Lord Jenkin of Roding, Lord Hunt of Wirral, Lord Deben and Baroness Bottomley of Nettleston as well as ex-minister Lord Garel-Jones.

They argued that there was a public majority in favour and pointed to similar reforms around the world. France became the latest country to legalise same-sex marriage last week in the face of some violent protests.

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