'I will not back gay marriage'
POTTERIES MP Rob Flello has become the most prominent Labour politician to oppose gay marriage.
The Shadow Justice Secretary, below, has confirmed to The Sentinel that he will not vote in favour of legislation to allow gay couples the right to get married.
He is one of only a handful of Labour MPs to speak out publicly on the changes, which would redefine marriage but not compel churches to conduct ceremonies.
Despite Government pledges to protect religious freedom, some fear a change in law could leave religious organisations vulnerable to future legal challenges.
Catholic Mr Flello, who voted in favour of equal gay rights in 2007, said: "My record of support for gay rights and equality for all speaks for itself.
"I don't believe this is an issue of equality. As a supporter of civil partnerships I was delighted same-sex couples could have long-term commitments formally recognised and be accorded the same rights as married couples. My faith is important to me but this is not a question of faith. The question is whether the State should rewrite the fundamental nature of marriage. Given the existing legal equality I don't believe the State should."
MPs will be given a free vote in Parliament, meaning they can vote based on their religious and personal backgrounds and will not be bound by the party whip.
The move has split the Conservative party.
Stafford's Tory MP Jeremy Lefroy is opposing the changes.
Bill Cash, Tory MP for Stone, says he is 'adamant' in his opposition to gay marriage'.
Newcastle Labour MP Paul Farrelly said: "I'm in favour of equality of opportunity but I'm going to wait to look at what is published. I've got concerns, in particular that churches and ministers should not be forced to do what they do not want to do."
Tristram Hunt, Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, said he would listen to debate but intends to vote in favour.
The Coalition for Marriage – which is against gay weddings – estimates just eight Labour MPs are opposed to the move – compared to 164 known to be in favour. Up to 130 of 303 Conservative MPs are believed to be opposing the changes.
Despite its political implications, the bill is expected to pass comfortably with the support of 57 Liberal Democrats and most of the 255 Labour MPs.
Mr Flello's stance sparked a backlash on social media after an email from an office assistant which briefly outlined his views was published by an online gay news service.
Labour city councillor Ruth Rosenau, a cabinet member who represents Meir North in Mr Flello's constituency, tweeted that his stance was 'disappointing'.
One grassroots Labour member tweeted: "Another Labour MP thinks his religion trumps his Labour values. You weren't selected by your church, pal." Another added: "Appalled to learn that a Labour shadow minister will be voting against marriage equality. Not the Labour Party I joined."