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Gay plan 'upsets normal couples'

The Government is hell-bent on upsetting thousands of "normal" couples with plans to allow churches to hold same-sex marriages, a Tory MP has claimed.

Beckenham MP Bob Stewart said it was the wrong time to bring forward controversial proposals to allow same-sex marriages, which have been launched by Prime Minister David Cameron despite opposition from some of his backbenchers.

His Tory colleague Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP Gordon Henderson also criticised the plans, telling Culture Secretary Maria Miller it was a "nonsense" to claim they would not impact on religious beliefs.

In a pointed attack against ministers, Hendon Tory MP Matthew Offord said the Government should also be consulting on allowing polygamous marriages as some "minorities" believed in allowing men to have more than one wife.

Asking a question to the Culture Secretary, Mr Stewart said: "Could you explain to me why the Government is so hell-bent on upsetting so many thousands of our citizens in normal marriages, especially at this time?"

In reply, Ms Miller said she did not think there was anything within the proposals that would upset couples already married.

She added: "I respect the point that you are making, particularly those of a religious faith, this is something that falls outside of their faith, and I absolutely respect that.

"That is why it is important that we have clear safeguards and protections so that you, your constituents, and others can know that what we are talking about here is strengthening marriage and not undermining it."

Mr Henderson told her the proposals would undermine the institution of marriage.

He said: "The suggestion that the Government's proposals need not necessarily impact on religious beliefs, is a nonsense.

"The definition of marriage is the joining together of a man and a woman in holy matrimony and allowing same sex marriages will therefore require a redefinition of that term.

"Such a weak definition will undermine one of the basic tenets of many religious institutions and so it definitely will impact on religious beliefs. That's not scaremongering, it's fact."

Mr Offord said: "Many members here have expressed the sentiment that marriage is at the centre of religious life. Has the Government considered introducing other forms of marriage such as polygamy? And if not, when can minorities who believe in such a practice expect their own consultation?"

Ms Miller replied: "I think the law is clear on this. Marriage is between two people and so the situation you talk about would not be possible."

Tory MP David Burrowes, of Enfield Southgate, said 500,000 people who had responded to the Government's consultation opposing gay marriage had been "effectively denied their voice" in the debate.

He added: "Is the consultation not in danger of being seen as a sham and certainly not providing the Government with a mandate to redefine marriage?"

Ms Miller said the consultation had been "exceptionally important" in helping the Government form an opinion about how it should introduce any changes.

But other Tories were in favour of gay marriage.

Former minister Nick Herbert said: "Will you agree with me that whilst civil partnerships were an incredibly important step forward for gay people, civil partnerships were not marriages and gay people will not feel they are fully accepted in society while they are denied access to what is one of our most important institutions?"

Ms Miller said there was an important difference in "perception" between marriage and civil partnership.

Liberal Democrat MP Steve Gilbert, of St Austell and Newquay, said: "Can I say that in the real world this issue is neither complex nor controversial and in fact, if confirmed tomorrow, will be widely welcomed by millions of lesbian and gay, bi-sexual and trans people, across our country."

Ms Miller said there was "great deal of support for making sure that marriage stays a relevant institution today".

She added: "I don't think it is anything about fashion or style or modernity. It is also about fairness and equality."

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