Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson has become the first Cabinet Minister to break ranks over the Government’s controversial plans to redefine marriage.
A number of senior Conservatives, including the Secretary of Defence Philip Hammond, have already expressed reservations over the Government’s plans.
But Mr Paterson is the first Cabinet Minister to openly oppose the redefinition of marriage. He revealed his position in response to correspondence from a homosexual constituent.
He said: “Having considered this matter carefully, I am afraid that I have come to the decision not to support gay marriage.”
He added: “The Prime Minister has made clear that he supports equal civil marriage and the Government is rightly consulting widely on this issue before making any changes to the current position.”
However, despite his opposition to rewriting the definition of marriage Mr Paterson says that same-sex couples should be able to hold civil partnerships in religious premises.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, has warned that he won’t allow Tory MPs to derail the plans for gay marriage.
He said: “The Coalition Government, the Liberal Democrats and I remain wholeheartedly committed to lifting the ban on equal civil marriage.”
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.
The Government’s controversial plans to redefine marriage have been criticised by a number of senior Conservatives.
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 Gerald Howarth, a junior Defence Minister, has said the Conservatives’ poor performance at the local elections was partly down to its bid to redefine marriage.