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Gay marriage on course to survive through Commons

Plans to allow same-sex marriage have survived a Conservative backlash after a fraught debate in the House of Commons.

An amendment which supporters warned could derail the legislation altogether was easily defeated last night after the government reached an agreement with Labour.

The Church of England had voiced its opposition to yesterday's amendment to the gay marriage bill which would have allowed heterosexual couples to have civil partnerships.

Speaking before the vote, the Bishop of Newcastle, Rt Revd Martin Wharton told Premier he believed the amendment was put forward with only one aim:

Anti-gay marriage campaigners have criticised the outcome. Coalition for Marriage campaign director Colin Hart said: "We have constantly said this Bill will unravel the place of marriage in our society. 

"The Government has allowed Labour to attach a £4bn ticking time bomb set to explode after a brief consultation on civil partnerships.

"It's yet another twist that wasn't in anyone's manifesto. Civil partnerships are cracked open to allow in heterosexual couples. 

"The Government has lost control, marriage has been left in limbo, it's a complete dog's breakfast, and the Bill should be dropped before more damage is done."

Andrea Minchello Williams from Christian Concern tells Premier she hasn't given up hope that gay marriage will fail:

Meanwhile, a proposal in the House of Commons to give legal recognition to humanist marriages in England and Wales has been halted through the last minute intervention of the Attorney General.

The proposal had the support of MPs from all three parties and was publicly opposed only by the Church of England and Conservatives in government.

In spite of this, the government threatened to make a declaration that the Marriage Bill was incompatible with human rights if the proposal passed as an amendment. This effectively made it impossible for MPs supporting the Bill to vote for the amendment.

The Church of England had voiced its opposition to yesterday's amendment to the gay marriage bill. In a statement to Premier, the Church claimed it does not have any "clear social good" and would have only created "further confusion" about the role of marriage in society. It came as dozens of Tory backbenchers rebelled against David Cameron's plans to introduce gay marriage in England and Wales.

The Church of England said:

"We agree with the Government's view that the Bill should not be amended to introduce an option of civil partnerships for couples of the opposite sex.

"We believe that this would introduce further confusion about the place of marriage in society. 

"We remain unconvinced that the introduction of such an option would satisfy a genuine and widespread public need, other than for those who pursue 'equality' as an abstract concept."

MPs led by Conservative Tim Loughton tabled the amendment that would expand civil partnerships to include heterosexual couples. That could effectively complicated the legislation and significantly delayed its introduction, with the row becoming the latest test of David Cameron's authority amid debate within his party over Europe and the rise of UKIP.

Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary, had warned that giving heterosexual couples the right to enter civil partnerships would "throw up significant challenges" and mean a "significant delay" to legislation. However, Lib Dem minister Lynne Featherstone, who introduced the bill while serving as equalities minister, said she doubted Mr Loughton and his colleagues had suddenly become converts to the cause of equality. "Given their public statements I fear what is at work here is rather darker and more cynical - a deliberate attempt to wreck the legislation by introducing extra issues to it that will make it easier for opponents of equal marriage in Parliament to then filibuster, delay and block the legislation," she said. In February, the Church of England stated its opposition to the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill, because of its concern for what it described as the "uncertain and unforeseen consequences" for wider society and the common good, when marriage is redefined in gender-neutral terms. Rt Revd Peter Price is the Bishop of Bath and Wells.

He tells Premier he still has reservations over what people are calling 'equal marriage':

The Government has sought to stop religious denominations being forced to conduct same-sex weddings by providing a quadruple 'lock' which:

  • Ensures that no religious organisation or individual minister can be compelled to marry same-sex couples or to permit this to happen on their premises.
  • Provide an opt-in system for religious organisation who wish to conduct marriages for same-sex couples.
  • Amend the Equality Act 2010 to reflect that no discrimination claims can be brought against religious organisations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple.
  • Ensure that legislation will not affect the canon law of the Church of England or the Church in Wales. As a result, if either church wanted to conduct a same-sex marriage, it would require a change to primary legislation at a later date and a change to canon law.

Revd John Stevens is the National Director of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches. He told Premier's News Hour he's against the bill and is worried about the future:

But Revd Sharon Ferguson - Chief Executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement - told Premier's News Hour she hopes the bill goes through:

Meanwhile, those for and against the bill are gathering outside Parliament to make their views known:

A statement from Archbishop Vincent Nichols and Archbishop Peter Smith said:

"This proposed change in the law is far more profound than first appears. 

"Marriage will become an institution in which openness to children, and with it the responsibility on fathers and mothers to remain together to care for children born into their family, is no longer central to society's understanding of marriage.   

"Furthermore, the Bill as currently drafted poses grave risks to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. 

"If the Bill is to proceed through Parliament we urge members to ensure it is amended so that these fundamental freedoms we all cherish are clearly and demonstrably safeguarded."

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill's remaining stages will be debated again today. If approved it will pass to the House of Lords for further scrutiny.

MPs get a free vote on the bill because it is considered an issue of conscience. When it was last debated by MPs in February, it was approved by a 225-vote majority, but nearly half of all Tories voted against it.

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