PRIME Minister David Cameron has survived a rebellion in the House of Lords to see his controversial legislation to introduce gay marriage in England and Wales pass a crucial stage.
The bill which only affects England and Wales was a major test of the Prime Minister’s authority with many peers in his own party following Tory MPs in opposing it.
But a wrecking amendment put down by Lord Dear only attracted 148 votes and with 390 voting against ensuring it passed the second reading.
The vote saw Tory peers split with most Church of England Bishops opposing gay marriage as well with the exception of the Bishop of Oxford.
Referring to an allegedattack on opponents of the Bill by a source close to Mr Cameron, former Tory chairman Lord Mawhinney said: “For 40 years my life has been driven by Christian and Conservative convictions, and now I am led to believe that because I continue to hold those values and principles I am a swivel-eyed loon. I want to raise a flag for swivel-eyed loons, because at the very heart of our country and our party is a commitment to time-tested values and principles.
“It is easy to lose respect. If you lose respect you lose trust, and if you lose trust you are in big trouble—and remember, I was the party chairman in 1997, so I know whereof I speak. This Government need to focus on respect, and if they are going to do that they need to start by taking this Bill away and producing something an awful lot better.”
But supporting the bill, Tory peer Lord Jenkin said: “Other people have referred to their anniversaries. Last year, my wife and I celebrated our diamond wedding, and I have to say that it has been a marriage with mutual comfort and support. Is this Bill going to redefine that marriage? I cannot see how that could possibly happen.”
While Labour and Lib Dem peers mostly backed the bill, some opposed on religious grounds.
Former Scottish Labour MP Lord McAvoy said: “I do not believe that the protections promised to the religious organisations are valid, because I see words like “inconceivable” and “almost impossible”. No one from the Government will give the absolute guarantee that the Roman Catholic Church, for instance, will not be prosecuted — that someone will not take a case to the European Court and win it.”
Peter Tatchell, who co-ordinates the Equal Love campaign, said: “This is a victory for love, marriage and equality.
“We are another step closer to our goal of equal marriage. It signals that the House of Lords accepts the principle that we should all be equal before the law.”
But Colin Hart, Campaign Director for the Coalition for Marriage commented: “Despite the highly unusual procedure of voting against a Government bill at second reading, 148 peers have chosen to register their profound opposition to the gay marriage bill.
“The debate lifted the lid on the shoddy and undemocratic tactics of the Government who remain determined to ram this legislation through Parliament at all costs. They have used every trick to curtail scrutiny and crush opposition, but as today’s result shows their tactics are failing.
“The Government may have won the vote today, but what was clear from the debate was the huge opposition to almost every part of the bill.”