Bradshaw criticises Churches as gay marriage vote divides Devon's Tory MPs
By Nick Lester, Parliamentary Correspondent
Exeter's Labour MP Ben Bradshaw backed plans to legalise gay marriage which exposed deep divisions within the Conservative Party.
The former Culture Secretary was joined by Hugo Swire, Tory MP for East Devon and Foreign Office Minister, in helping the historic proposals clear their first Commons hurdle by a big margin of 400 votes to 175 – a majority of 225.
But early estimates showed 134 Tories voted against the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill's second reading. They included Anne Marie Morris for Newton Abbot, Neil Parish for Tiverton and Honiton, and Mel Stride for Central Devon.
The vote followed more than six hours of impassioned debate on the proposed legislation. It saw Mr Bradshaw, a Christian who is in a civil partnership, criticise the opposition of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church to the Bill, arguing it was "a residual prejudice against same-sex relationships".
Mr Bradshaw, who is a member of both the Anglican Church and Parliament's Ecclesiastical Committee, said: "I entirely support the Government's decision to make this a permissive law, allowing those religions and denominations that wish to celebrate the loving same-sex relationships of their members to do so.
"Indeed, there are many Anglicans and Roman Catholics who wish that their Churches were as open and welcoming as those that support the Bill entirely. "However, in their wisdom, the leaderships of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church are not yet prepared to take such a step."
Mr Bradshaw added: "That is their prerogative. However the Churches' credibility in arguing that would be a lot greater if they welcomed and celebrated civil partnerships.
"The fact that they do not do so leads me to conclude only that their objection to the Bill is not about the institution of marriage or even the word, but about a residual prejudice against same-sex relationships."
Culture Secretary Maria Miller said the plans would make Britain "a fairer place to live", and insisted religious organisations which did not want to conduct gay marriages had protection. She claimed it was "simply inconceivable" that the European Court of Human Rights would unpick the Government's "quadruple lock" aimed at protecting religions who did not wish to opt-in to the proposals.
But Tory MPs lined up to condemn the measures, who argued they undermined marriage, would alienate voters and threaten the party's election prospects. Responding to the result on Twitter, Mr Cameron wrote: "Strong views exist on both sides but I believe MPs voting for gay people being able to marry too, is a step forward for our country."
Labour leader Ed Miliband said: "This is a proud day and an important step forward in the fight for equality in Britain."
The vote on the gay marriage plans was: Ben Bradshaw, Exeter, Lab - Yes
Anne Marie Morris, Newton Abbot, Con – No
Neil Parish, Tiverton and Honiton, Con - No
Mel Stride, Central Devon, Con - No
Hugo Swire, East Devon, Con - Yes