Religious leaders have criticised prime minister David Cameron’s public backing for gay marriage.

Giving his keynote speech at the Conservative party conference in Manchester yesterday, Mr Cameron urged the party to back the move because of its Conservatism, not in spite of it.

He said: “Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other.

“So I don’t support gay marriage in spite of being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a Conservative.”
The Most Rev Peter Smith, the Archbishop of Southwark, welcomed the support for marriage but accused the prime minister of trying to “redefine” the institution.

He told the Daily Telegraph: “Marriage by its very nature is between a man and a woman and it is the essential foundation of family life. The state should uphold this common understanding of marriage rather than attempting to change its meaning.”

The Catholic Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, the Rt Rev Kieran Conry, said the church would “have to do something” to protect marriage.

The Catholic Church, as well as the Church of England, is expected to formally oppose the proposals when a government consultation opens early next year.

In Scotland, government proposals to introduce marriage equality were met with fierce opposition from Catholic leaders.

Bishop of Paisley Philip Tartaglia, who is expected to become the next Archbishop of Glasgow, claimed that Catholic voters would desert the SNP if marriage equality becomes a reality.

Church leader Cardinal Keith O’Brien said the change would be a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right” and that gay parents cannot adequately bring up a child.