SCOTTISH Conservative leader Ruth Davidson is among a group of senior Tories who have defied party traditionalists by launching a new group to campaign for gay marriages.
She has joined 18 others, including London mayor Boris Johnson and Education Secretary Michael Gove, backing moves to allow same-sex weddings to be held in places of worship.
The issue has sparked a serious rift in the Conservative Party, with more than 100 of its MPs expected to oppose the change in the Commons next year.
Some have criticised David Cameron for “arrogance” in pushing ahead with the plans, despite his promise of a free vote.
Under the proposals, due to be fleshed out this week, churches and other venues will be allowed to “opt in” to holding civil marriage ceremonies. Ministers will offer a guarantee that no institution will be forced to marry gay people on their premises, but Tory MPs and religious groups have questioned whether it would stand up to challenges under the Human Rights Act.
Legislation is expected to be introduced before Easter and could take effect about a year later, with the first ceremonies likely be held in spring 2014.
The new Conservative group has been put together by Nick Herbert, the former police minister who resigned from the government in September’s reshuffle.
In a letter to a Sunday newspaper announcing the formation of the group, the 19 declared: “Marriage should be open to all, regardless of sexuality.
“We recognise that civil partnerships were an important step forward in giving legal recognition to same sex couples. But civil partnerships are not marriages, which express a particular and universally understood commitment.”
Mr Herbert, who is in a civil partnership, said changing the law was “the right thing to do”.
He added: “It is precisely because marriage is such a uniquely important institution that we should ensure that all couples who want to enter into it, regardless of their sexuality, can do so.”