LONDON -- Conservative MPs are trying to sabotage Prime Minister David Cameron's plan to legalize gay marriage, threatening a rebellion bigger than the one in which 81 voted against the Government on Europe.
A campaign to defeat the Coalition's plan to lift the ban on civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples is being organized by traditionalist Tory MPs, who claim the idea would weaken the institution of marriage. Ministers fear the revolt will undermine Cameron's drive to modernize his party.
MPs have been promised a free vote, although ministers will be urged to support Cameron. Opponents claim more than 100 Tory backbenchers could vote against gay marriage, dwarfing the number who voted for a Europe referendum last October. Backbenchers have protested to ministers about the Government's backing for the change at private meetings of the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs. "Feelings are running high," one senior party source said this week.
David Burrowes, one of the organizers of the campaign against the reform, told The Independent he is "cautiously optimistic" the proposal will be defeated in the Commons because it would "fracture" the institution of marriage. Burrowes, parliamentary aide to the Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin, insisted there is strong opposition to gay marriage across the Conservative Party spectrum.
"Many colleagues are worried that it would fundamentally affect how marriage between a man and woman has historically been viewed in this country," he said. "There are strong doubts that we need to go down this path. It would open up a can of worms and a legal minefield about freedom, religion and equalities legislation.
"Gay marriage is a debate we don't need to have at this stage. It is not an issue people are hammering us on the doorstep to do something about," he continued, adding: "It is important that there is a reasoned debate around how we view marriage rather than about homosexual rights. It may open up old wounds and put people into the trenches; no one wants that."
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