The British Parliament is posed to debate and give a first vote on Prime Minister David Cameron's marriage equality proposal Tuesday night.
HERE's the LIVE VIDEO. It's the second of three readings in the House of Commons. It started about 7:30am EST and should last approximately six hours. It then goes to the House of Lords.
The vote is scheduled for 19:00 GMT (2 PM EST).
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Conservative support for the measure is divided but is getting a last-minute push for support from three cabinet officials, George Osborne, the chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary William Hague and Home Secretary Theresa May, who published a letter in the Daily Telegraph calling on fellow conservatives to support the bill.
Civil partnerships for gay couples were a great step forward, but the question now is whether it is any longer acceptable to exclude people from marriage simply because they love someone of the same sex.
Marriage has evolved over time. We believe that opening it up to same-sex couples will strengthen, not weaken, the institution. As David Cameron has said, we should support gay marriage not in spite of being Conservatives, but because we are Conservatives.
Our party also has a strong belief in religious freedom, a vital element of a free society. The Bill ensures that no faith group will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages. The legal advice is clear that these protections for religious groups cannot be overturned by the courts.
Religious freedom works both ways. Why should faith groups, such as the Quakers, that wish to conduct gay marriages be forbidden from doing so? This Bill will enhance religious freedom, not restrict it.
Attitudes towards gay people have changed. A substantial majority of the public now favour allowing same-sex couples to marry, and support has increased rapidly. This is the right thing to do at the right time. We will be among the Conservative MPs voting for this Bill today.
The Peter Tatchell Foundation is holding a rally outside parliament at 5 pm today.
“MPs vote tonight at 7pm on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. We urge supporters of marriage equality to rally outside and inside parliament. It is important to have a visible presence for equal rights, against the vociferous homophobic minority. They want to keep us as second class citizens and are resorting to smears and scare tactics. Our rally is for love and equality,” said Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation.
“Regardless of whether you love or loathe marriage, the ban on same-sex marriage is homophobic discrimination and should be repealed. This legislation is about ensuring equal marriage rights for all. In a democratic society, everyone should be equal before the law. Denying lesbian and gay couples the right to marry disparages and insults their love. The fact that some senior politicians and churchmen believe gay couples are unworthy of marriage is proof that homophobia is still deemed an acceptable prejudice in the highest levels of society. Their support for legalised discrimination gives comfort to bigots everywhere,” said Mr Tatchell.
The Guardian adds:
Downing Street knows that the marriage (same sex couples) bill will easily receive its second reading because an overwhelming number of Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs will line up alongside Cameron loyalists to vote for it. But up to half of the Tory parliamentary party's 303 MPs may fail to support the bill by voting against it or abstaining in the second reading.
Scores of Tory MPs say they are facing intense pressure in their constituencies to vote against the measure. The strength of feeling in the party was highlighted on Sunday, when 20 current and former Tory constituency association chairmen delivered a letter to No 10 warning that the bill would inflict "significant damage" to the party in the runup to the next election.
The surprise intervention of the cabinet's heaviest hitters suggested the bill was in line with Conservative values and strengthened both marriage and religious freedom.
The paper is running a live blog here.