The Labour Party has signalled that it will now allow its MPs to have a free vote on the government’s equal marriage plans despite previously indicating that it would impose a three-line whip.
An unnamed Labour MP has told the New Statesman that the move does not constitute a U-turn. He said: “The three-line whip only applied to civil ceremonies. Now the government has agreed to allow gay marriages in religious buildings, we will hold a free vote.”
He said a whipped vote would make him instantly more inclined to rebel as it would go against “personal freedom”.
However, the party’s London Assembly Member Tom Copley has warned against allowing marriage equality to become a free vote for parliamentarians.
On Twitter, he said: “Allowing MPs of faith a get-out-of-the-whip free card on grounds of conscience brings religious privilege into the legislative process.”
The three-line whip arrangement was reported on the same day Labour leader Ed Miliband released an Out4Marriage video in September, where he called on the government to extend the right of religious institutions in providing marriages for gay couples.
Culture Secretary Maria Miller is expected to outline the measure as part of the government’s response to this year’s equal marriage consultation in the House of Commons on Tuesday at 12:30pm.
Labour MPs such as Jim Dobbin, Joe Benton and Mary Glindon, who have already signalled their public opposition to marriage equality by signing a petition against the measure, would not be at risk of potential disciplinary action if they sided against Mr Miliband under a free vote.
David Cameron has already granted Tory MPs a free vote – a move which saw the prime minister criticised by Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg earlier this year.
According to the Coalition for Equal Marriage‘s website, 164 Labour MPs are likely to vote for equal marriage, with 8 against, 2 are neutral, and 83 are unknown.