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Tuesday 22nd May 2012 | 16:49
For a Coalition founded on what looked very much like a civil partnership back in the Rose Garden of 2010, gay marriage may look like an apt policy.
But unease within the Tory party is more palpable by the day. Today, we report how Owen Paterson has become the first Cabinet minister to come out (pun intended) against the very principle of what Number 10 now calls 'equal marriage'.
Discontent about what was seen by some Tory MPs as a Lib Dem policy has been simmering for some time. Earlier this year, when a group of the 1922 Committee met the PM at No.10, the one topic that came up again and again as a complaint (and not from the usual traditional Right) was gay marriage.
They said activists didn't like it, Tory voters were unsure of it, and backbenchers felt it was a very low priority. The PM tried to reassure the throng that there was no threat to religious freedom and that no clergyman would be forced to tie to men together in holy matrimony.
In the end, the Chief Whip let it be known that should a gay marriage bill materialise there would be a free vote. Soon after the local election defeats, ministers let it be known that it would not be a 'priority' for the Government. It didn't make the Queen's Speech and seemed to have been kicked into the long grass.
Yet the Libs are determined to get a 'win' on this and David Cameron is wary of being seen to be on the wrong side of public opinion.
Tory opinion is divided. Some like Fraser Nelson feel it is a needless trap for the party, while others like Tim Montgomerie feel it is time to promote a conservative value of marriage for all. Iain Duncan Smith recently hinted he had softened his views, saying 'I'm for things that promote stability'.
Over in the US, President Obama has listened to pressure from his own party and his backing the idea (some years after Cameron's famous conference speech on the issue).
Public opinion in the UK seems to now have a majority backing the idea. As our excellent pollster PolHomePulse has pointed out, the graph that will unnerve No.10 is the one showing a plunge since May 2010 in those who think the Tory party 'has left its past behind it'. That past, of course, included Section 28 (for which Cameron once 'apologised' in Opposition).
The interesting thing is not so much Paterson's opinion (he perhaps liberally interpreted the idea of a free vote) but the PM's. Does he believe that a Government policy on gay rights can ever be 'a matter of conscience'?
It's worth remembering that (partly due to Sam Cam, partly due to the many gay Tory thinkers and staffers he's met) the PM has come on 'a journey' on gay rights.
It's also worth remembering that he is still not quite at the end of that journey. In the general election campaign, he nearly came a cropper over the issue when Gay Times interviewed him.
He stumbled when asked why his own MEPs had refused to back a motion condemning an anti-gay rights policy in Lithuania. In the end he asked for the camera to be turned off while he gathered his thoughts.
"I've tried to have free votes where possible on these sorts of issues but, er ... I'm responsible for votes here. Sorry, it's not a very good answer."
Pressed on whether free votes were appropriate for a fundamental human right, a clearly flustered Cameron said: "You're right, you're right. Sorry, sorry. You're right ... The two are very different. Sorry."
This is the problem with any free vote solution used to appease his backbenches (and some ministers). You can only have a free vote on an issue that is deemed a matter of conscience. But one man's conscience is another man's fundamental human right.
As the PM acknowledged, they are indeed 'very different'. Can he still allow a free vote? Even if he does, will that include Cabinet ministers?
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