British lawmakers voted in favor of controversial legislation allowing gay marriage on Tuesday, despite fierce opposition from members of British Prime Minister David Cameron’s own party.
The move puts Britain on track to join the 10 countries that allow same-sex couples to marry, but Cameron had the embarrassment of seeing more than half of his Conservative lawmakers refusing to back him.
The British prime minister insisted that the plan to allow same-sex couples to marry in England and Wales would “make our society stronger,” although the draft law still has several other parliamentary hurdles to clear.
“Strong views exist on both sides, but I believe MPs [lawmakers] voting for gay people being able to marry too, is a step forward for our country,” Cameron wrote on his Twitter page after the vote.
British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who leads the Conservatives’ junior coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, hailed the result as a “landmark for equality.”
“Tonight’s vote shows parliament is very strongly in favor of equal marriage,” Clegg said. “Marriage is about love and commitment, and it should no longer be denied to people just because they are gay.”
The vote passed by 400 to 175, mainly because it had overwhelming support from the Liberal Democrats and opposition Labour Party.
However, just 127 of Cameron’s 303 Conservatives voted in favor of the plans, with 136 voting against and 40 either formally abstaining or not voting.
Two Conservative Cabinet ministers, Owen Paterson and David Jones, were among those who voted against, while British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond and British Attorney General Dominic Grieve stayed away.
Cameron had allowed lawmakers a free vote on the issue, meaning they were not directed by party whips.
Opponents attacked the bill during an often impassioned day-long debate ahead of the vote in the House of Commons.
Pleas from Cameron’s Cabinet allies to persuade their Conservative colleagues to back his plans and avoid damaging divisions fell on deaf ears.
Same-sex couples in Britain have had the right to live in civil partnerships since 2005, but they cannot marry.
British Culture Secretary Maria Miller, the minister responsible for the legislation, insisted the bill would protect religious freedoms and “not marginalize those who believe marriage should be between a man and a woman.”
The proposals are opposed by the Church of England and new Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, but the legislation says no place of worship of any faith would be legally required to carry out gay marriages.