THE gay marriage bill was, as expected, passed by the House of Commons yesterday, but David Cameron was dealt a body blow when he failed to get a majority of his own MPs to support the proposals.
The move to make marriage available to all was passed by a huge majority of 400 to 175, but 139 Conservatives, including two cabinet ministers, voted against the idea, and just 132 supported it. The other 32 Conservative MPs were either absent or abstained.
The vote means that the bill will go to the Lords later this year and is now highly likely to become law.
"Yesterday’s vote was a historic moment," said Owen Jones in The Independent. "Centuries of state-sanctioned prejudice have been obliterated in the last 40 years: some of the last set of laws denying full rights to a minority are now being overcome."
However, he lamented what he called the "death rattle of bigotry" from opponents of gay marriage in Westminster last night.
The Daily Telegraph saw things differently and said the debate in the Commons had been "thoughtful and courteous", unlike the discussion of the issue in the media.
The paper noted that the vote had "momentous social significance", but chided Cameron for trying to force through the measure. "He bounced his party into a reform for which there was no popular pressure," it said. "The change was imposed, rather than allowed to develop from popular sentiment."
Writing in The Times, Daniel Finkelstein praised Cameron and said he was right to move with the times.
"A society cannot be successful if it lightly discards tradition, but it cannot be successful either if it stifles liberty in the hope of halting progress," he wrote. "Things do not stay the same, and it is poor history and poor conservatism to argue that they do."
While most observers believe that gay marriage will soon become an accepted part of British life, there could be long-lasting implications for the Tories.
"This was a sad day for the Conservative Party," said the Daily Mail. "For most of its history, it has been known as the most disciplined election- winning machine in British politics. Yet last night that reputation lay in tatters."
The paper laid the blame at Cameron's door. "One unfathomable mystery remains: why, with so many more important matters to occupy him, has the Prime Minister staked so much on a fringe issue that he knew would cause deep distress to many of his most loyal followers? None of the major parties mentioned it in their election manifestos. There is no public clamour for it."
The Tory split revealed something "deep and damaging" about the party, claimed The Guardian. "Cameron's position as leader is not at risk, but to have a majority of his party voting against him is a humiliating rebuff nevertheless."
It said the vote was "the latest climax in a disintegrating crisis of Tory party credibility" and added that a "significant section" of the party was now opposed to Cameron's brand of Toryism.
"A large part of the Tory party has not understood its failure to win the 2010 election. Tuesday night suggests it is hell-bent on ensuring that it fails to win the next one too," claimed the paper.
The sentiment was echoed by James Forsyth in the Spectator. "The danger for the Tories is that continued wrangling over this issue makes the country see them as a divided party." ·