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Wednesday 23rd May 2012 | 13:31
By Isabel Hardman
Tory MPs have warned David Cameron that he must have a free vote on gay marriage to avoid splitting the party.
Stewart Jackson, Peter Bone and Mark Pritchard hit out after Downing Street said that the Coalition's commitment to a law on same-sex civil marriage was subject to collective responsibility. PoliticsHome revealed yesterday that Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson opposed the legislation outright.
He wrote to a constituent: "Having considered this matter carefully, I am afraid I have come to the decision not to support gay marriage."
The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman was asked this morning if Cabinet collective responsibility applied to gay marriage and nodded in response. "It's a Government commitment," he said. The spokesman stressed the Government was "committed to introducing same sex civil marriage" by end of Parliament.
Mr Jackson, who resigned from his post as Mr Paterson's former PPS over last winter's vote on whether to hold referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union, told PoliticsHome that any move to whip MPs would cause "serious divisions". He said: "Number 10 would be foolish in the extreme to disregard this as a conscience issue.
"Whipping the vote would be a catastrophic error of judgement and would generate serious divisions."
Mr Bone said: "There would be uproar in the party and ministerial resignations."
Mr Pritchard said: "The Prime Minister has given a clear commitment to a free vote on gay marriage; therefore Owen Patterson’s comments are perfectly in order."
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