David Cameron’s plan to redefine marriage is a “step too far”, a Conservative minister has warned.
Gerald Howarth, a defence minister, warned that Conservative MPs should not be made to support the issue if it comes before Parliament.
Mr Cameron caused a storm of controversy when he declared his personal support for rewriting the definition of marriage at his party’s conference in Manchester last week.
Mr Howarth, the MP for Aldershot, insisted that rewriting the definition of marriage was a matter of “conscience” and that MPs should be granted a free vote.
Mr Howarth said: “Some of my best friends are in civil partnerships, which is fine, but I think it would be a step too far to suggest that this is marriage.
“I take the view that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.”
Peter Bone, a Conservative MP, said he had been disappointed by Mr Cameron’s comments which he branded as “political correctness”.
And last month Lord Tebbit, the party’s former chairman, questioned the Government’s approach on the issue.
He said: “I would have thought there were other priorities at a time like this. There can be no such thing as gay marriage. Marriage is between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others.”
Church leaders have also hit out at the plans to rewrite marriage. The Church of England said marriage is between a man and a woman.
And Mike Judge, Head of Communications at The Christian Instituite, said: “If marriage can be redefined for homosexuals, why not redefine it for polygamists?
“Given the track record of British Courts interpreting the Human Rights Act, how long would it be before polygamy is legalised in Britain?”
Dr Dave Landrum of the Evangelical Alliance said: “If you can’t conserve the institution of marriage, what can you conserve?”
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Southwark, Peter Smith, said: “Marriage by its very nature is between a man and a woman and it is the essential foundation of family life.
“The state should uphold this common understanding of marriage rather than attempting to change its meaning.”