THE Conservative backlash against the UK Government's decision to press ahead with gay marriage, including in some places of worship, has begun in earnest despite reassurances that no church will be forced to hold same-sex ceremonies.
However, ministers were warned the proposal to make it illegal for the Church of England to hold gay weddings – which goes further than the Scottish Government's plans by singling out a particular denomination – was likely to be challenged in courts.
Maria Miller, the Equalities Minister, told MPs she was putting in place a "quadruple lock" to guarantee religious organisations would not have to marry homosexual couples against their wishes.
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"I am absolutely clear that no religious organisation will ever be forced to conduct marriages for same-sex couples," she said.
Under the quadruple lock, it will also be unlawful for religious organisations or their ministers to marry same-sex couples unless their organisation's governing body has expressly opted in to provisions for doing so
The 2010 Equality Act will also be amended to ensure no discrimination claim can be brought against religious organisations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple.
But Tory Stewart Jackson branded the proposals a "constitutional outrage and a disgrace" and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell denounced the plans as "a disappointing fudge", which could be open to legal challenge.
Elsewhere, there was some cheer for the Coalition when an Ipsos Mori poll for Freedom to Marry found three-quarters of voters supported gay weddings.
And last night Nick Clegg insisted that in years to come gay marriages would seem "very normal".