Gay marriage plans cleared another major parliamentary hurdle last night when peers overwhelmingly rejected a bid to block the legislation.
A rare “wrecking” amendment declining to give the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill a second reading was defeated on a free vote by 390 to 148, majority 242
The marathon debate, with more than 90 speakers over two days, revealed deep divisions over the controversial measure in the Upper House.
It is certain to face further formidable opposition during detailed line-by-line scrutiny in its later stages.
MPs have already backed the Bill, which applies to England and Wales, despite fierce opposition from dozens of Tory backbenchers.
Critics in both Houses warn the move will undermine the traditional concept of marriage, while supporters stress the need for equality.
The result was greeted with cheers from supporters of gay marriage outside Parliament.
The scale of the vote against the wrecking amendment proposed by independent crossbencher Lord Dear will be a major fillip for the Bill’s supporters.
Lord Dear insisted the change would “completely alter the concept of marriage as we know it”.
The Bill was “ill thought through” and had no democratic legitimacy, he said.
But Baroness Stowell of Beeston, for the Government, hailed the legislation as a “force for good” which would strengthen the institution of marriage.
She said it protected both religious freedom and freedom of speech.
In the closing moments of the long debate, Lady Stowell also held out an olive branch to religious leaders opposed to conducting same sex marriages.
If further changes to the legislation were necessary to make protections for religious organisations clearer, the Government would consider doing so, she said.
Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill said: ‘We’re absolutely delighted.
“We always expected a tough challenge in the House of Lords, and Lord Dear’s ‘fatal motion’ – very rarely used – demonstrates the lengths to which a minority of peers are, sadly, still prepared to go to deny full equality to lesbian, gay and bisexual people.”