LONDON, February 5, 2013 ( – With the passage of the government’s gay “marriage” bill today, Prime Minister David Cameron’s days as leader of the Conservative Party may be numbered, according to a top marriage campaigner and one of the UK's leading newspapers.

The bill passed overwhelmingly earlier this evening, but at the cost of the cohesion of the party, and possibly the next general election. In tonight’s vote, the Daily Mail reports that of 303 Tory MPs in the House, 139 voted against the wishes of their leader, a sign that the Conservative Party is struggling with a crisis of unity.

Today Cameron, faced with the biggest Tory rebellion in the party’s history, was forced to rely on support from political rivals Labour and the Liberal Democrats to pass his legislation. The majority of those refusing to support “gay marriage” were backbenchers, but they were joined by a significant portion of the Cabinet – including the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond and Attorney General Dominic Grieve who abstained, and the Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson who voted no – and half the party whips.

Following today’s vote, Colin Hart of the Coalition for Marriage said, “This result is a disaster for David Cameron.

“Despite a personal plea from the PM his MPs have overwhelmingly rejected gay marriage. Mr. Cameron must think again. The scale of the opposition against the Government’s profoundly undemocratic plans is astonishing, and sends a clear message to the Prime Minister that he faces a lengthy and damaging battle to redefine marriage.”

The Daily Mail editorialised today, “After decades of Tory rifts over matters such as Europe and the economy, David Cameron has achieved a remarkable feat. He has discovered an entirely new way of splitting his party from top to bottom.”

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The Mail noted that before the Conservatives brought the issue forward a few months ago, “there was no clamour” for it in public, no major party had it as a platform plank, and “even now, only seven per cent of voters say it is ‘important’”. 

“Yet in the depths of the worst economic crisis in living memory, the Prime Minister has pushed this fringe obsession to the top of his programme for government.”

The Mail quoted Salisbury MP John Glen, warning the issue was going to hurt the party in the 2015 election, a warning that echoed the one hand delivered to Cameron by a group of 20 local party Association chiefs yesterday. 

The Mail also quoted Graham Brady, chairman of the “1922” private members’ committee, who said he had ‘serious misgivings’ about assurances from ministers that the bill will not threaten the religious freedoms of objectors.

MPs have heard from legal experts saying that given the interconnectedness of British and European laws, the House of Commons does not have the power to protect its citizens from activist litigation. Moreover, many have expressed their fears that the bill’s protections are too narrow, concerning only clergy and churches and not the threat to the rights of expression of lay believers.