Gay marriage: churches fuel rebellion
Reposted from The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/feb/03/gay-marriage-bill-tory-rebellion?intcmp=239
Catholics and Anglicans still unhappy with the government's bill as Tory grassroots backlash reaches Downing Street
A final attempt by the government to head off widespread opposition from its own MPs to the equal marriage bill looks set to fail after churches insisted they were still not happy with the legislation.
The culture secretary, Maria Miller, wrote to every MP just over a week ago enclosing a factsheet and "myth buster" based on the department's latest legal advice on the question of whether churches and individual ministers could be forced to marry gay couples.
The "Dear MP" letter is part of a co-ordinated effort to stop more than half of Conservative MPs failing to back their own government's bill. It is a free vote but such a lack of support would be seen as an embarrassment to David Cameron, who considers it an important part of modernising his party's image.
As many as 180 Tories are said to be considering voting against the bill on Tuesday or abstaining, including up to four cabinet members, although the bill is expected to pass because of majority support from Labour and Liberal Democrats.
Last week the Church of England and Roman Catholic church wrote to the 650 MPs saying that their concerns about the bill – including the lack of legal protection – had not changed.
The Church of England said it did "not doubt the government's good intentions", but remained concerned "the risk of challenges to churches in the European courts despite the protections provided, suggest that if the legislation becomes law it will be the focus for a series of continued legal disputes for years to come".
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales similarly wrote: "The government's safeguards, though well-intentioned, will not provide adequate protection for individuals or religious organisations with conscientious objections to same-sex marriage."
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt Rev Justin Welby, is expected to voice his opposition after being officially confirmed in the post at a ceremony in St Paul's Cathedral, London, on Monday, the Telegraph reported. The newspaper quoted a source close to the archbishop as saying: "He will say that marriage is between a man and a woman, and always has been."
The Tory grassroots rebellion over the gay marriage proposal reached Downing Street on Sunday when constituency chairmen delivered a letter to Cameron warning that party members were leaving in increasing numbers, and urging the prime minister to delay implementing the legislation until after the general election, expected in 2015.
The letter, signed by 22 heads and former heads of local party associations, argues there is no mandate for the bill and that it had been rushed through parliament. It adds: "Resignations from the party are beginning to multiply and we fear that, if enacted, this bill will lead to significant damage to the Conservative party in the runup to the 2015 election."
However Tim Montgomerie, editor of the Conservative Home website, pointed to an analysis of polls by YouGov showing the measure would cost the party at most 1% of its total estimated support at the next election, not taking into account votes it might win as a result of pushing through the measure.
The culture minister, Ed Vaizey, insisted on the Sky News Murnaghan programme on Sunday that the vote would not tear the Tory party apart, claiming internal divisions were "good-natured".
However, David Burrowes, a ministerial aide and leading opponent of equal marriage, said he and other MPs for and against the bill had received hate mail and tweets – in Burrowes's case including death threats and messages comparing him to Adolf Hitler.
Burrowes will on Monday help publish a report on the controversy by ResPublica, the Tory thinktank responsible for the "big society", which compares extending marriage to non-heterosexual couples with allowing non-Jews to practise Judaism.
In a sign of how personal the issue has become, the Tory blogger Iain Dale, who is gay, claimed on Sunday that several MPs intending to vote against the equal marriage bill were people "who most people in the Westminster Village know to be closet case gays", and warned their "hypocrisy" could be exposed by opponents.
In her letter, Miller said: "I do not believe that people should be excluded from marriage simply because they love someone of the same sex," adding that marriage has changed over time, including allowing Catholics, atheists and other groups to marry outside the Anglican church in the 19th century, and recognising married men and women as equal in the 20th century.
Miller's letter says the legislation "reiterates the government's absolute commitment to religious freedom", including a "quadruple lock" of measures setting out the choices religions and ministers can make, and altering other legislation to protect those. Miller also argued the European convention on human rights "guarantees the right to freedom of religion" – a direct challenge to critics who claim that the commitment to equality under the same convention can be used in the European courts to force ministers to conduct marriages for gay couples once the bill becomes law.