23 May 2013

Britain's gay marriage bill passes hurdle

6:48 am on 23 May 2013

A bill to legalise gay marriage in Britain has passed a crucial hurdle in parliament, despite efforts by MPs from Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative party to wreck the plans.

Members of the House of Commons voted by 366 to 161 in favour of the same sex marriage bill and it will now go to the House of Lords for consideration, AFP reports.

Tuesday's vote followed a marathon debate on Monday in which Mr Cameron was forced to make a deal with the opposition Labour party to defeat a bid by his own rebellious Conservative MPs to scupper the bill.

Right-wing Tories had proposed an amendment to allow heterosexual couples to form civil partnerships, which was condemned by Mr Cameron's office as a "wrecking amendment" that would have delayed the introduction of the new law.

Although the motion was easily defeated with Labour's help, the depth of the Conservatives' divisions were made clear when 121 Tory MPs backed a separate plan to allow officials to opt out of carrying out gay marriage. It too was defeated.

Britain has seen none of the mass protests over gay marriage held across the channel in France, which last weekend became the 14th country in the world to legalise it.

Conservative former minister Norman Tebbit stoked the row on Tuesday by claiming gay marriage could result in a lesbian Queen giving birth to an heir by artificial insemination.

"When we have a Queen who is a lesbian and she marries another lady and then decides she would like to have a child and someone donates sperm and she gives birth to a child, is that child heir to the throne?" Lord Tebbit told The Big Issue magazine.

The rancour over gay marriage within the Conservatives has heaped further pressure on the Prime Minister, who is already facing bitter opposition from many Tories over his leadership style and a promised referendum on Britain's EU membership.