British PM's party split as first gay marriage vote passes

Tue Feb 5, 2013 4:08pm EST
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By Andrew Osborn

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's parliament voted heavily in favor of legalizing gay marriage on Tuesday, but Prime Minister David Cameron's authority in his own party took a blow as his Conservatives split in two over the measure he had championed.

In the first of several votes required for its passage, the lower house of parliament backed the legislation by 400-175, but more than half of Cameron's 303 lawmakers voted against or abstained, signaling deep unease with it and his leadership.

During a debate that lasted more than six hours, many Conservative MPs denounced the legislation, saying it was morally wrong, not a public priority, and unnecessarily divisive, threatening a corrosive legacy of bitterness.

Conservative lawmaker Gerald Howarth told parliament that the government had no mandate to push through a "massive social and cultural change".

"This is not evolution, it's revolution," added Edward Leigh, another Conservative member of parliament, saying marriage was "by its nature a heterosexual union".

Although the vote went Cameron's way, many analysts believe he will now have to address a deep seam of discontent running through his party.

He made a last minute televised statement ahead of the vote, arguing gay marriage would make society stronger.

"I'm a big believer in marriage. It helps people to commit to each other, and I think that's why gay people should be able to get married too," he said.   Continued...

Christian activists Jonathan Longstaff (L) and Jenny Rose, both from London, protest outside the Houses of Parliament before a free vote on gay marriage, London February 5, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Helgren