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13 December 2012

How many cabinet ministers will vote against gay marriage?

Faith minister Sayeeda Warsi, who attends cabinet, is the latest figure to raise concerns over the policy.

By George Eaton

Ed Miliband declared earlier this week that the shadow cabinet was “united in supporting same sex marriage” but David Cameron can’t say the same of his top team. Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, a renowned social conservative, has said that he does not support the move and Welsh Secretary David Jones has indicated that he will vote against it while refusing to say why. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond does not oppose equal marriage as such but has suggested that its introduction should be delayed to allow the government to “focus on the things that matter”.

Today it emerged that Sayeeda Warsi, who attends cabinet as minister for faith communities and as a senior Foreign Office minister, also has concerns over the policy. In a letter leaked to the Daily Mail, Warsi asked equalities minister Maria Miller, who is piloting the legislation through parliament, to provide “clarity” on “how the legislation will protect religious freedom”. She added: “What legal protection will churches and other places of worship be afforded from challenges if they refuse to undertake same-sex marriage? What legal support will be afforded to churches and others places of worship if they’re challenged individually or as an organisation?”

Warsi’s letter, sent after Miller’s statement to MPs, is significant because it shows that even the “quadruple lock” preventing religious institutions being forced to marry same-sex couples has not been enough to assuage Tory concerns. The lock will ensure that neither religious organisations nor individual ministers will be compelled to hold the weddings on their premises, that no discrimination claims can be brought against them for refusing to marry a same-sex couple, and that religious organisations who do support equal marriage will be required to formally opt-in. In addition, the Church of England and Church in Wales will be banned from hosting same-sex weddings without new primary legislation. Some Tories are pushing for the latter measure to apply to all religious organisations.

Should Conservative cabinet ministers vote against equal marriage, it will not qualify as a rebellion because David Cameron has offered a free vote to his MPs. Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have since followed suit after the government agreed to allow religious organisations to hold same-sex marriages.

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