The Tory Chief Whip, Patrick McLoughlin, has privately assured anxious Tory backbenchers that the current proposals for equal marriage will “not come to a vote,” and that they will be “kicked into the long grass,” the Mail on Sunday reports.

The newspaper also reports that some Tory MPs have changed their minds, after several of their constituents wrote to them in opposition to their proposals, and now stand against marriage equality.

Mr McLoughlin, a former miner, is one of the most senior Roman Catholics in the Conservative Party. His office however could not be reached for an immediate response. But, a spokesperson for Prime Minister’s office told PinkNews.co.uk that Mr Cameron and therefore the government remain “fully committed” to marriage equality, though the official would not comment on statements attributed to the Chief Whip.

Mr McLoughlin’s position contrasts with that of the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, who being also the most senior Catholic in the government, came out on Friday in support of gender-neutral marriage. 

In addition, the Mail on Sunday reports that several MPs, concerned at the vociferations of religious groups and Tory backbenchers, have formed a clandestine group with the intention of persuading David Cameron to roll back his proposals.

The Conservative MP for Bracknell in Berkshire, Philip Lee, had on March 30 written to a constituent opposed to equal marriage, saying: “I agree with the Prime Minister that society is made stronger by people’s commitment to one another. This is true whether the couple making the commitment is a man and a woman, a man and a man or a woman and a woman. For most of my constituents there are more pressing issues of concern.”

Less than three weeks later, Dr Lee wrote to the same constituent, saying he now believed the “vast majority of people” were against the plan, as a result of which, he has “had to review” his own position, his rationale being that civil partnerships provide same-sex couples with the same legal rights as heterosexuals.

Citing the number of signatures on the anti-equality Coalition For Marriage (C4M) petition, another Home Counties Tory MP has reportedly said: “We’re worried we’ll haemorrhage votes unless Cameron backs down. These protests are not from the usual suspects of complainants. These are from quiet, unassuming Tory supporters telling us, do this and we won’t vote for you again.”

Following revelations by PinkNews.co.uk that Catholic schools around the country have urged their pupils to sign the petition, the Education Secretary Michael Gove has launched an official enquiry into the allegations. Where that leaves the C4M petition itself remains uncertain, though the Catholic Education Service has said that it will send out a notice to the effect that only those aged 16 or above can sign the petition.

The C4M petition currently has over 473,000 signatures, whereas the Coalition for Equal Marriage (C4EM), which campaigns for marriage equality, has just over 51,000 signatures. PinkNews.co.uk encourages its readers to sign the C4EM petition, and, especially, to fill in the government proposals and e-mail the corresponding MPs, urging support for equal marriage.