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Gay marriage ‘wrecking’ amendment could cost £4bn

Amendments to the Gay Marriage Bill could delay its introduction by 18-24 months and cost the taxpayer an extra £4bn, Downing Street has warned.

Tory opponents are widely seen to be seeking to wreck the Bill through an amendment to grant civil partnerships to heterosexual couples. The Bill will be debated in the House of Commons today, with up to 150 Conservatives planning to oppose it.

The Bill was approved by a 225 vote majority in February, when nearly half of all Conservatives voted against it. MPs get a free vote on the Bill, as a matter of conscience.

The amendment is being tabled by former children’s minister Tim Loughton. He told the Guardian: “This scaremongering just won't wash. The Government has come up with a lot of desperate last-minute excuses as to why giving full equality of civil partnerships will not work.

“This is what comes when you try to redefine marriage without having thought through the consequences. One of those consequences is that the majority of the population and MPs clearly want equality for civil partnerships. The Government Bill, as it stands, will deny them that equality. So they need urgently to do the work to make it happen.

“Far from being a wrecking measure, some of the strongest support for my amendment to extend civil partnerships comes from the biggest supporters of same-sex marriage in the Labour and Lib Dem parties.”

Thirty-four current and former local party chairmen delivered a letter to Downing Street opposing the gay marriage policy as “flawed, un-Conservative, divisive and costing us dearly in votes and membership”.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary and shadow equalities minister, told Sky News: “I think it's a real problem if this gets lost in the vortex of the Tory infighting that we had over the last couple of weeks when actually it's a really positive Bill that we should all want to celebrate.”

Under the Bill, the Church of England and the Church in Wales would be banned from offering same-sex marriages because of their strongly stated opposition, unless they changed canon law. Other religious organisations would be able to “opt in” to holding ceremonies.

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