David Cameron is to give Government ministers a free vote on plans to rewrite the definition of marriage following a wave of protest.
The move is significant because, normally, ministers are expected to vote according to Government policy.
Earlier this week Owen Paterson, the Northern Ireland Secretary, became the first Cabinet Minister to publicly oppose the Government’s plans to redefine marriage.
A number of other ministers, including the Secretary of Defence Philip Hammond, have expressed reservations.
A government spokesman initially said the issue was “a government commitment” and indicated that ministers could be forced to support the plans.
But now officials have confirmed that all Conservative MPs – including ministers – will be free to vote according to their consciences.
Gerald Howarth, a junior Defence Minister, said it was “absolutely right and proper” for MPs to be given a free vote.
The Westminster Government is currently holding a public consultation on its plans to redefine marriage.
However, over half a million people have already signed a petition calling for the current definition to remain unchanged.
Earlier this week Owen Paterson said: “Having considered this matter carefully, I am afraid that I have come to the decision not to support gay marriage.”
Philip Hammond, the Secretary of Defence, has said that the Government should “focus on the things that matter”.
Tim Loughton, the parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families, has said that marriage should remain the union of one man and one woman.
And earlier this month Mr Howarth, said the Conservatives’ poor performance at the local elections was partly down to its bid to redefine marriage.