Nov 13 2012
Chancellor George Osborne has given his strong personal endorsement to plans to legalise gay marriage, and warned Conservative opponents that ditching the policy would be toxic electorally.
The proposals have sparked determined resistance from campaigners for traditional marriage, and many Tory backbenchers are expected to oppose them when the legislation comes before Parliament, where they have been promised a free vote.
But Mr Osborne, who is in charge of Conservative preparations for the 2015 general election, said polls indicate a "clear majority" in favour of the change, particularly among the young and women.
In an analysis of Barack Obama's victory in last week's US presidential election, Mr Osborne said that Mitt Romney's prospects were undermined by the sense that the Republicans were out of step with modern America on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage.
And he invoked Margaret Thatcher in saying that successful political parties must reflect modern life and the way that people want to live their lives.
After a series of senior Tories, including Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, indicated their personal support for a reduction in the time limit for abortion, Mr Osborne also made clear that he opposes any cut from the current 24 weeks.
Writing in The Times, the Chancellor said: "I should declare my personal position on these social issues: I wouldn't change the current abortion laws and I strongly support gay marriage on principle. Of course in Britain these issues are ones of individual conscience and free votes, but I am proud to be part of a Government that will introduce a Bill to allow gay marriage."
Meanwhile, Conservative former defence minister Sir Gerald Howarth claimed that military chaplains could be disciplined or even sacked for upholding traditional marriage if the legislation goes through.
In a letter to Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, Sir Gerald said: "Under the Government's proposals if the definition of marriage is rewritten, then those chaplains who maintain their support for the traditional/biblical meaning could face disciplinary action and even dismissal."
Colin Hart, campaign director of the Coalition for Marriage, which opposes same-sex weddings, said: "David Cameron keeps promising that this proposal is popular and will not have any adverse effects, but here we have a former defence minister in very stark language saying this is simply not true. All the polling shows that a majority of voters don't back the changes and the public is increasingly hostile to the Government's plans."