06/02/2013 05:10 GMT

Gay Marriage: British Press Focus On Conservatives' Damaging Divide

A damaging divide in the Conservative party was the focus of most newspapers' reports as MPs voted overwhelmingly to support gay marriage - but only 127 of 303 Tory MPs voted in favour.

But David Cameron's determination to introduce the bill despite the split in his own party over the issue was hailed as a brave move by traditionally left-wing media, including the Guardian and the Independent.

In its editorial leader on Wednesday morning, the Independent said: "The advance has not been politically easy. Although a decisive majority of the population are in favour of the reform, a significant minority of Conservative MPs fought hard against it.

gay marriage

MPs have voted in favour of gay marriage

"By insisting on pressing ahead in the teeth of such opposition, the Prime Minister has been accused of fiddling while Rome burns.

"Instead he should be congratulated on his clear judgement, his common decency and his leading from the front.

Independent columnist Philp Hensher said the introduction of equal marriage "as a word" was an important step.

"It says that you’re allowed to fall in love with whomever you like, and if they love you back, you’re allowed to take whatever steps anyone else may take to cement it.

"People who oppose the extension of the concept of marriage are not defending the status of their own marriage: they are dictating what love is allowed to look like in the lives of people they will never meet."

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The Guardian's leader concentrated on some of the more ignominious speeches by Conservative MPs in the chamber debate.

Stewart Jackson, the Peterborough MP, warned during the debate that gay marriage would open a “Pandora’s box”. North Thanet MP Roger Gale said for the coalition to attempt to introduce gay marriage was "Alice in Wonderland territory" and "Orwellian".

And Gainsborough MP Edward Leigh said: "We should be concerned with equality, but not at the expense of every other consideration, not at the expense of tradition."

The Guardian described the MPs who opposed the measure as "on the wrong side of history" and directly threatening the Tories electability.

"A significant section of the Tory party has effectively thrown its full weight against Mr Cameron's Toryism. This bill was intended to be a statement of what has changed about the Tory party. There is still some truth in that modernising claim.

"But it is overshadowed by the even louder statement about what has not changed – and has no wish to change.

"A large part of the Tory party has not understood its failure to win the 2010 election. Tuesday night suggests it is hellbent on ensuring that it fails to win the next one too."

But the paper had praise for Conservative MP Mike Freer, for his speech about how his wished to marry his gay partner.

"It was not a speech which Mr Freer's most celebrated Finchley predecessor, Margaret Thatcher, could or would have made, and it said something about the journey which parts of the Tory party have been on," the paper said.

The piece was illustrated by a cartoon by Steve Bell, with a pig wearing lipstick.

The Times carried a cartoon of the "Westminster Village People", with members of the cabinet portrayed as the gay band, including Cameron, William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith, looking nervously over their shoulders.

The paper's parliamentary sketchwriter Ann Treneman wrote: "I regret to say that the gay marriage debate was anything but gay, Indeed, out of the dozens who spoke, only one MP came close to something approaching joy.

"Otherwise the debate was fraught, intense, angry, accusatory, occasionally eloquent and often moving. And that's only the Tories."

Conservative-leaning papers accused Cameron of having sown "needless discord" in his own party by introducing the measure.

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The Telegraph's editorial leader read: "David Cameron’s purpose in pursuing this legislation was to depict the Tories as social progressives, while at the same time marginalising those who had deeply felt reservations about such a policy.

"To that end, he bounced his party into a reform for which there was no popular pressure and which appeared in neither the Tory election manifesto nor in the Coalition Agreement – while shelving tax breaks for marriage, which was a manifesto pledge.

"The British public have long proved themselves open-minded and adaptable; in time, the existence of gay marriage will become a settled fact. But even if the country takes the change in its stride, Mr Cameron may find – to his cost – that his party has not."

The paper also criticised the "ugly tone" of the debate in the media and public sphere, which the paper said "had been set by Downing Street itself."

"We have seen opponents of the measure – not just the churches, but also social conservatives (a category that includes a number of Labour MPs) – stigmatised as bigots and cranks who are “opposed to equality”.

The Daily Mail called the split "a self-inflicted wound" by Cameron and said it was "a sad day for the Conservative Party" whose reputation is in "tatters".

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The paper said: "No spin can disguise that it was a huge blow to the Prime Minister’s standing, exposing deep rifts between the mass of Tory traditionalists and the metropolitan ‘modernising’ elite at the top.

"Indeed, it can almost be seen as a vote of no confidence from MPs in the direction in which their leader is taking them."

It criticised the Prime Minister for staking his reputation on a "fringe issue that he knew would cause deep distress to many of his most loyal followers.

"After last night’s vote, does he seriously believe that pro-gay marriage voters will switch to the Tories next time?"