Britain’s gay marriage bill was set to pass a crucial parliamentary hurdle yesterday, after British Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to strike a last-minute deal with the opposition to stop members of his own Conservative Party wrecking the plans.
Lawmakers in the lower House of Commons were expected to approve the bill following a marathon debate on Monday, which saw Cameron join forces with Labour to defeat a “wrecking amendment” backed by dozens of rebellious Conservative right-wingers.
Their proposal to allow straight couples to form civil partnerships would have heavily delayed the bill, but MPs opposed it by 375 votes to 70 and backed a Labour plan to discuss the rebel proposition further without blocking the main part of the legislation.
Following yesterday’s vote the bill was scheduled to move to the upper house of parliament, the House of Lords, where it is expected to face stiff opposition.
While Cameron has seen off a damaging rebellion from his backbenchers, his authority has taken a battering over gay marriage at a time when he faces bitter opposition from many Tories over a promised referendum on EU membership.
Cameron has been forced to send a mass e-mail to Conservative Party activists after an unnamed ally of the prime minister reportedly called them “mad, swivel-eyed loons.”
“I am proud of what you do. And I would never have around me those who sneered or thought otherwise,” he wrote.
The “loons” comment fueled accusations that Cameron’s inner circle are out of touch with traditional Tories and that the prime minister surrounds himself with people from the same privileged background as himself.
Many Conservative supporters fear that with a general election two years away, Cameron’s backing for gay marriage is driving traditional Tory voters to the UK Independence Party (UKIP), an anti-immigrant, anti-EU party that made strong gains in local elections last month.
A poll yesterday suggested that support for the Conservatives had slumped to a record low of 24 percent — just 2 percent ahead of UKIP — although a different poll put the Tories at 31 percent.