In a letter delivered today (3 January) to the UK prime minister, David Cameron, 23 current and former Conservative constituency chairpersons warned against legalizing gay marriage.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which is to be debated in Commons later this week, would enable same-sex couples to get married in both civil and religious ceremonies, where a religious institution had formally consented, in England and Wales.
It would also allow couples who have previously entered into civil partnerships to convert their relationship into a marriage.
The letter, quoted by the BBC, warns of ‘significant damage to the Conservative Party in the run-up to the 2015 election’ if the planned bill becomes law’.
It went on to say that ‘specifically out of our concerns about the growing discord within the Conservative party over this issue’, and stressed that ‘resignations from the party are beginning to multiply’.
The letter slammed party leadership for not adequately consulting with Conservative party members and that the bill is being ‘pushed through’ in a way they find ‘extremely distasteful’.
‘More time should be afforded to debate an issue of such gravity… and a final decision on the matter should be postponed until after the 2015 general election when the public would have had the chance to vote on a clear manifesto pledge.
Delivering the letter to 10 Downing Street, Conservative councillor Ben Harris-Quinney told the BBC: ‘It's frankly madness to bring this matter before Parliament at this time.
‘There's no mandate for it and there are so many more serious issues affecting the country as a whole’.
Meanwhile, the Sunday Telegraph reports some 180 Conservative MPs, including six whips and up to four members of the cabinet, are ready to defy the prime minister's plan to legalise gay weddings.
MPs will have a free vote on the issue, but the bill is expected to be voted in by a comfortably majority as Labour and Lib Dem members of parliament would support it.
Speaking BBC One’s Sunday Politics TV Show, foreign secretary William Hague said: ‘It's for them to make their own decision, as it was when there were votes on abortion laws or capital punishment.
‘If we weren't debating it now, it would be an issue at the next general election’.
He continued to say that there was ‘sufficient protection’ in the bill for religious organisations who did not want to offer it to same-sex couples.
Education Secretary Michael Gove has offered his support to the proposed legalisation of same-sex marriage but told the Mail on Sunday teachers would not be disciplined for refusing to promote it.
On Saturday, it emerged the government would not introduce a tax break for married couples in next month's Budget after speculation the measure would be brought in to appease Tory backbenchers opposed to gay marriage.