Cameron will allow ministers to vote against redefining marriage

May 24, 2012

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, will allow his ministers to break ranks and vote against plans to change the definition of marriage.

It is a sign of growing government unease over the plan. Normally, ministers are expected to vote in line with government policy.

A free vote for ministers is politically hazardous for the PM. It will add to tensions within the Cabinet and pit Tories against each other. John Major’s government never recovered from his failed bid to introduce no-fault divorce in 1996 which transformed the fissures in his Cabinet into open rifts.

In the wake of poor results in the local elections, the government has been under pressure to concentrate on things that really matter to ordinary voters – like fixing the economy – rather than redefining marriage.

It has long been understood that backbench Tory MPs would have a free vote, but today’s news confirms that government ministers will also be allowed to vote according to their conscience.

Number 10 denies a u-turn, even though yesterday David Cameron’s spokesman said legislating on the issue was “a government commitment” and ministers would be expected to support it.

Nick Clegg has indicated that he will not allow Tories to spoil the plans to rewrite the meaning of marriage. Many in the Lib Dems regard redefining marriage as one of their prizes for being in Coalition with the Conservatives.

Even though the Prime Minister personally supports the plan, many Tory insiders are suspicious that the policy is being driven by the Liberal Democrats,.

Polling shows that 70 per cent of people want to keep marriage between one man and one woman, and over 527,000 people have signed a petition to say so.

A government consultation is currently ongoing, and the number of responses could be one of the largest in government history.