Tory divisions over plans to allow same-sex marriage took an extraordinary turn yesterday when a leading gay Conservative said MPs who are secretly homosexual will vote against the legislation tomorrow.
Iain Dale even claimed that two married MPs who are opposing gay unions are secretly cheating on their wives with other men.
The talk radio host and former Tory Parliamentary candidate warned that the issue has become so divisive that around 12 Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem MPs risk being ‘outed’ if they vote against the plans.
The claims electrified an already bitter fight over David Cameron’s proposals, which are set to see more than half of Tory MPs oppose the Prime Minister’s stance in the Commons tomorrow.
Downing Street expects 120 Tory MPs to vote No, with another 60 abstentions – a bitter blow to Mr Cameron who has pushed through the plans in the face of widespread opposition from his party.
Tory Cabinet ministers Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, and Welsh Secretary David Jones are expected to vote No, while others are set to dodge the vote.
NEW ARCHBISHOP TO CHALLENGE COALITION’S GAY MARRIAGE PLANS
‘He will say that marriage is between a man and a woman, and always has been,’ a source told the Daily Telegraph.
Lambeth Palace was keen to stress the view was standard Church of England policy and insisted the Archbishop was not planning to wade into the row by making any formal statements, but was simply ready to respond to any questions he was asked on the issue.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, a known opponent of gay marriage, will be overseas, although aides say the trip was long planned.
Allies of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith say he has not made up his mind, but could now back the plans out of loyalty to Mr Cameron.
But with the party divided down the middle, Mr Dale issued the incendiary allegation that some MPs risk a charge of hypocrisy if they oppose the plans.
Having studied a list of those expected to vote No drawn up by pro-gay marriage group the Coalition for Equal Marriage, he wrote: ‘I note with interest the names of several MPs who most people in the Westminster Village know to be closet case gays.
‘And I note also the names of two supposedly straight MPs who I know to be conducting gay affairs at the moment.’
Mr Dale, who helped run David Davis’s Tory leadership campaign in 2005, emphasised: ‘I don’t believe in ‘‘outing’’ anyone.’ But he warned: ‘Because of the rank hypocrisy there will be others who will take a different view.
‘How is it possible to be married yourself, and yet at the same time vote to deny that privilege to someone whose pants you have just pulled down?’
With feelings running high, 25 serving and former Conservative constituency chairmen yesterday delivered a letter to Downing Street accusing the PM of ‘bulldozing through’ the reforms and warning they could cost him victory in 2015.
The grassroots leaders say the decision to promote the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill ‘has been made without adequate debate or consultation with either the membership of the Conservative Party or with the country at large’.
The letter argues that Mr Cameron has ‘no mandate’ for the change and has pressed his case ‘in a manner which a significant proportion of Conservative Party members find extremely distasteful and contrary to the principles of both the party and the best traditions of our democracy’.
But Tory MP Sir Peter Bottomley dismissed the significance of the letter, claiming arguments against gay marriage ‘don’t add up’.
Twenty-five past and present officers went to Downing Street. Twenty-five out of 2,000, 3,000 does not strike me as being newsworthy,’ he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
‘When it was first proposed I was indifferent. Then a bunch of people started arguments against it. I started looking at those arguments; they don’t add up.
‘Conservatives believe in fairness. We now understand that to move from a civil partnership to a civil marriage is to allow the words “I will” at the ceremony. That is not going to be a big deal.’
OUTSPOKEN TORY AT THE CENTRE OF THE STORM
Iain Dale is one of the most prominent gay Tories and a well-known figure at Westminster.
The talk show host is a presenter with LBC, the London radio station that hosts Nick Clegg’s weekly phone-in show.
He ran for the seat of North Norfolk in 2005, losing to Lib Dem care minister Norman Lamb. Mr Dale was the first Tory candidate ever to be chosen for a seat after announcing before the selection meeting that he was gay.
The former proprietor of the Politicos bookshop in Westminster, he founded Total Politics magazine and is managing director of publisher Biteback, which specialises in politicians’ memoirs. It also published Tory Pride and Prejudice, a history of the Conservative Party’s approach to gay rights legislation.
Mr Dale has been in a relationship with publishing finance expert John Simmons for 17 years, and in a civil partnership since 2008.
He says they haven’t discussed whether to marry if the law is changed.
In a further blow for the Prime Minister, a ComRes poll suggests that six out of ten ethnic minority voters – who Mr Cameron is wooing to win the next election – believe marriage should only be between a man and a woman. Some 49 per cent believe those who support traditional marriage will be persecuted at work for their views.
The Coalition for Marriage, which opposes plans to redefine traditional marriage, released figures showing that 40,000 teachers might face the sack for failing to support gay marriage in schools.
Education Secretary Michael Gove – a supporter of same-sex weddings – insisted that they would be protected. ‘I have complete confidence in the protection our law offers freedom of conscience and speech,’ he said. ‘There is a significant difference between expecting a teacher to explain something and requiring them to promote it.’
But a legal opinion, seen by the Mail, written by John Bowers QC says that teachers would have to promote gay marriage. He said the Bill ‘provides no exception for conscientious beliefs. There would be a duty on the teacher to promote marriage as newly defined’. One source said Mr Gove was ‘privately more concerned than he is letting on’.
A report published today by Tory think tank Respublica argues that the Bill ‘fundamentally undermines the meaning of marriage’ and should be scrapped, with churches encouraged to bless civil partnerships instead.
Author Philip Blond said: ‘The primary purpose of conjugal marriage is to provide a stable environment for raising children – this purpose would be completely lost by the proposed redefinition.’
The report will be introduced by ministerial aide David Burrowes, who yesterday claimed that he has received death threats as a result of his opposition to gay marriage.
÷ France is set to approve a gay marriage law that would see the words ‘mother’ and ‘father’ banned from all official documents in favour of ‘parents’. French MPs have voted in favour of redefining marriage as ‘a union of two people, of different or the same gender’