British Prime Minister David Cameron faced further dissent from within the ranks of his Conservative Party as a bill to legalize gay marriage returned to the British Parliament yesterday.
Cameron faced a setback in the lower chamber, the House of Commons, if the opposition Labour Party joined forces with Tory rebels in a vote on his bill.
While Cameron, several senior party colleagues and his Liberal-Democrat coalition partners back the bill legalizing gay marriage, large sections of his Conservative party are fiercely opposed to the idea.
Dozens of disgruntled lawmakers were expected to deliver a heavy blow to Cameron’s agenda by backing an amendment yesterday calling for civil partnerships to be offered to heterosexual couples.
Downing Street called it a “wrecking amendment” that could cost ￡4 billion (US$6 billion) in pension changes and delay the passing of the same-sex marriage bill by up to two years.
However, Labour, while it backs gay marriage, is set to join the rebels, saying that the government has not made a convincing case against extending civil partnerships.
France on Saturday became the 14th country to legalize gay marriage after Socialist President Francois Hollande signed it into law, despite fierce protests from the main opposition right-wing UMP party.
However, in Britain, the ruling Conservative Party appears to be at war with itself over the issue.
A letter signed by more than 30 current and former Conservative association chairmen, handed to Cameron on Sunday, gave an indication of the bitterness felt by some sections of the party.
They accused him of “treating the membership with contempt” over the issue.
“You have failed thus far to keep the manifesto promise you made to recognize and incentivize marriage through a tax break for married couples,” it said.
“The [gay marriage] Bill could cost us the election … therefore, prime minister, for the sake of the well-being of the country and the integrity and future success of the party, we urge you not to continue with your policy of redefining marriage,” it said.
Last week, British Secretary of State for Defense Philip Hammond suggested that the bill was a waste of parliamentary time.
“There is a real sense of anger among many people who are married that any government thinks it has the ability to change the definition of an institution like marriage,” he said during a televised debate.
The vote comes just days after a member of Cameron’s inner circle fiercely denied claims that he had branded grassroot party members as “mad, swivel-eyed loons.”
Party co-chairman Andrew Feldman has strenuously denied Internet rumors linking him with the statement and said he was considering legal action.
Cameron is already under pressure from the right wing of his party over Europe.
Many party members are concerned about the rise of the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) after its unprecedented gains in recent local elections.
That threat prompted 114 Tory members of parliament last week to back a motion in parliament expressing regret that the coalition government’s plans for the year contained no guarantee of a referendum on EU membership.