Q&A: The gay marriage debate
What are MPs voting on?
Today's debate will be followed by the first Parliamentary vote on the Government's Marriage Bill. If approved, it will redefine marriage in law to allow same-sex couples to be married. Currently, they are entitled to civil partnerships which offer the same legal rights as a marriage but are still considered to be a separate type of union.
Will churches be forced to hold gay weddings?
No. The Marriage Bill bans the Church of England and Church in Wales from offering same-sex marriages in Anglican churches. All other religions can 'opt in' if they decide to through their own hierarchies but none will be forced. The clause for Anglican churches may protect the Church of England from legal challenges which contested that, as the country's established church, it should be compelled to follow the law.
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Why is it so controversial?
The bill has attracted attention because it has split the Conservative party and sparked a national moral debate. Up to 180 of the 303 Conservative MPs are expected to vote against the bill or abstain, including some cabinet members. Many grassroots Tory organisations say they are fundamentally opposed to the change and have reported members quitting the party in protest. Traditionalists argue it is not the role of Parliament to redefine marriage. Equality campaigners say the bill gives gay couples true equal rights.
Is it likely to be approved?
Yes. MPs will be given a 'free vote', allowing them to decide based on conscience and personal beliefs instead of the party whip. Despite the number of Conservatives expected to vote against Prime Minister David Cameron, the bill will likely be backed by more than 100 Tories and the vast majority of Labour's 255 MPs and the 57 Liberal Democrats.