Tory MPs opposed to gay marriage will not be forced to vote in favour of the plans, it has been reported.
Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude told the Daily Telegraph that Conservative MPs would not be whipped to vote in favour of the legislation when it comes before Parliament.
"The consultation will come out, we will listen to what people say as a government," he said. “Obviously, it is an issue of free votes and MPs will form their own views.
On Thursday the Home Office launched a consultation on gay marriage. Equalities minister Lynne Featherstone told The Independent this morning that there would be "no rolling back whatsoever" on the plans.
"The essential question is not whether we are going to introduce same-sex civil marriage but how," she said.
Maude, whose brother died of Aids in the 1990s, has strongly backed gay marriage. The modernising minister has warned Tory MPs that they risk making their party "unelectable" if they are seen to oppose same-sex marriage.
The Daily Mail reports that work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith has also confirmed Tory MPs would be able to vote as they like on the matter.
However Tory MP Peter Bone, who has previously described gay marriage as "nuts", told the newspaper that he did not believe the assurances from Duncan Smith and Maude. "I will believe it when I see it," he said.
Writing in The Times this morning home secretary Theresa May said the plans were motivated by a desire to "strengthen our society by extending the right to marry".
“Marriage is one of the most important institutions we have," she said. "It binds us together, brings stability and makes us stronger. So I don’t believe the State should stop people getting married unless there are very good reasons – and being gay isn’t one of them."
Despite vocal opposition from some religious figures and several Tory backbenchers, gay marriage is likely to be approved by Parliament given the backing it has from both coalition partners as well as the Labour Party.
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, has welcomed the consultation by said the government shold go further.
"At the moment Theresa May has ruled out allowing any church to conduct a same sex marriage. I believe that is the wrong approach," she said.
"If we really support the institution of marriage and want to welcome more people into it, then Government and Parliament should not deny the Quakers, the Unitarians and other churches who want to celebrate gay marriage the chance to do so."
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