The first Liberal Democrat MP to voice their opposition to the government’s marriage reforms since last week’s announcement has gone public.
The Lancashire Telegraph reports Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle as saying:
“I will vote against gay marriage. Civil partnerships are fine. Gay marriage is just not on.”
His Westminster office has refused to comment on the reports to PinkNews.co.uk, although admitted they were surprised.
Mr Birtwistle’s opposition has been described as “strong” and puts him on a direction collision course with the biggest equal marriage champion in his party, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg.
In an exclusive interview with PinkNews.co.uk last Tuesday, Nick Clegg signalled that his MPs would be given a conscience vote by saying: “I’m not going to be illiberal in pushing through a liberal measure”.
A short time later, Mr Clegg’s position was confirmed by the party’s Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael, who said the decision to offer a free vote on marriage equality for Lib Dem MPs had been based on Labour and the Conservatives doing the same.
In May, Mr Clegg criticised David Cameron for granting Conservative MPs a free on the issue – at a time when the government’s official position was that it was only looking at reforming civil marriage laws and not those concerning religious venues.
However, last Tuesday, Labour leader Ed Miliband confirmed that he would also not seek to whip his backbench MPs over the issue in a similar move to Nick Clegg.
He had stated: “The whole shadow cabinet is united in supporting same-sex marriage together with the vast majority of all Labour MPs.”