By Edward Davie - 9th November 2004
I think the American presidential election shows that there is an enormous opportunity in British politics for politicians, particularly Conservative politicians to stand up for old-fashioned family values
Tory splits over gay rights have surfaced as backbench Conservatives sought to amend the government's Civil Partnership Bill.
The legislation, debated in the Commons on Tuesday, extends to same-sex couples the legal rights over property and pensions enjoyed by married people.
Although Conservative MPs were being given a free vote, Michael Howard was expected to join Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs in backing the plan.
But senior Tory backbencher Edward Leigh has been accused of trying to wreck the legislation by amending it to extend the rights to siblings as well as gay couples.
As Leigh tried to argue his case, fellow Conservatives queued up to criticise the amendment.
Although Leigh insisted this was not a wrecking measure, he argued that the bill was "fundamentally dishonest".
The government, heavily influenced by the homosexual lobby, are creating a homosexual marriage bill in all but name. I believe marriage is unique, holy and should have its own set of rights," said Leigh.
"The amendment simply gives the same rights that exist under this bill to siblings," he added.
From the Conservative frontbench Alan Duncan criticised Leigh's amendment for inconsistency.
He was joined in attacking Leigh by other Tories including John Bercow and Douglas Hogg.
MPs later rejected the move to extend rights to siblings by 74 votes to 381.
Leigh had suggested his party could repeat Republican electoral success by taking a hard line on issues such as gay marriage.
However Tory chiefs are keen to present a more inclusive image by supporting the bill.
A spokesman for the Conservative Party said that although the party was allowing a free vote on the issue the leadership regarded the group's amendment as a "wrecking measure".
The amendment was based on changes approved by peers when the Bill went to the Lords in the summer.
The Tory hardliners - including Leigh and shadow minister Gerald Howarth - suggested the Conservative leader was missing a chance to reach out to new voters by expressing a firm commitment to "family values".
"I think the American presidential election shows that there is an enormous opportunity in British politics for politicians, particularly Conservative politicians to stand up for old-fashioned family values," Leigh said ahead of the debate.
"George Bush made a very effective raid on the Hispanic vote, which is usually strongly Democrat but is fiercely pro-family.
"There is a huge opportunity for the Conservative Party to make a raid on the one million Muslim voters who are very strongly supportive of family values."