More Tory MPs have voted against gay marriage than have voted for it, with initial estimates from the vote (which was won 400 votes to 175) suggest 139 Tories voted against the legislation and 132 voted in favour. This was not the result that David Cameron was hoping for when his government introduced gay marriage legislation.
Of course, tonight’s division was a free vote. Many of those Tories who voted no are fierce Cameron loyalists—think of Michael Fallon. But everyone knew which way the Tory leadership wanted its MPs to vote: tellingly, there was a Tory party press officer in the gallery for the vote.
Tonight’s news is a blow to David Cameron as it shows that a plurality of his MPs do not share his views on gay marriage. This will be written up, with some justification, as a blow to Cameron’s modernisation project. I suspect that a lot of Lords will also point to this division in the largest governing party to justify slowing down passage of the bill.
Those close to the Tory leadership argue that the electorate will pay little attention to tonight’s voting split in 2015. Instead, they argue, that voters will just know that gay marriage has been advanced on Cameron’s watch. But the danger for the Tories is that continued wrangling over this issue makes the country see them as a divided party.