The Labour Party has been accused of being “brutal” and “illiberal” amid reports that it is “highly likely” to force its MPs to vote for gay marriage whether they like it or not.
The decision means that Labour MPs opposed to same-sex marriage, such as Jim Dobbin, Joe Benton and Mary Glindon, could face disciplinary action if they vote against the plans.
One critic has warned that imposing a three-line whip would “ride roughshod over the conscience of MPs in a particularly brutal way”.
Ed Miliband, the party’s leader, released a video in support of same-sex marriage yesterday, upping the ante by saying that churches should be able to conduct gay weddings.
The move prompted The Daily Telegraph to accuse the Labour leader of making the declaration as a political ploy.
An editorial in the paper warned that the Government’s consultation “fought shy of any such move – explicitly confirming” that religious organisations would not be able to conduct same-sex weddings.
It added: “This was not just because the idea was already controversial, but because there is a slippery slope, both in custom and in law, from can to should to must.
“Once the principle was conceded that churches, mosques or synagogues could be used for gay marriage, it would not be long before it would be demanded as a right, with test cases put before courts in both Britain and Europe.”
Labour may however give its MPs a free vote if there was a separate vote on allowing same-sex marriages to be held in places of worship.
Melanie McDonagh, writing for The Spectator, said: “Treating this as a matter for a three line whip would be, for Labour, to ride roughshod over the consciences of its MPs in a particularly brutal way, even if it were to give them the sop of voting on the question of church ceremonies for gay couples as a matter of conscience.”
She added: “To treat otherwise loyal MPs as rebels for voting against gay marriage, quite possibly in accordance with their constituents’ views, strikes me as really illiberal.”
She concluded: “Liberal authoritarianism is an insidious political problem, masquerading as tolerance but ruthless when confronted by dissent. If Ed Miliband follows the lead of Nick Clegg on this one and denies his MPs a free vote, it suggests we’re in for a new era of bigotry: secular, liberal and rather frightening.”