Ann Widdecombe calls for gay marriage referendum

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Updated: 17:32 GMT

Ann Widdecombe has called for a referendum on equal marriage rights for gays, believing such a measure would fail.

In her Daily Express column today, Widdecombe says it “suits” politicians to portray the religious as “the major source of opposition to coalition plans for gay marriage” but that opposition is, in fact, widespread.

Widdecombe has previously backed the ability of therapists to offer so-called ‘gay cure’ treatments to clients who want to become straight.

She writes: “I have no doubt that as gay marriage is debated we shall see bishops deployed against gay activists but it is simply not true that only the Church is opposed to redefining marriage.

“An opinion poll, independently carried out for the Coalition for Marriage, suggests 86 per cent of the population believes it perfectly possible to promote gay rights without redefining marriage.”

The January ComRes poll referred to by Widdecombe asked participants whether they agreed with the statement: “Since gay and lesbian couples already have the same rights as married couples available to them under civil partnership, they should not be allowed to redefine marriage for everyone else.”

51% of 1002 respondents agreed with the statement. The question was criticised by commentators for its phrasing.

While many of the most prominent Coalition for Marriage backers are Church figures, it told today it had no religious affiliation.

The Coalition describes itself as an “umbrella group of individuals and organisations in the UK that support traditional marriage”.

When asked which of these organisations was non-religious in nature, was directed to the list of signatories and the organisations listed next to their names.

Excluding political parties, the only two officially non-religious organisations of the many bodies listed are the Family Education Trust and the Philosophical Society of England.

The President of the Philosophical Society of England told this afternoon she had signed the Coalition for Marriage in a personal capacity and the organisation was in no way aligned with the Coalition’s aims.

The Family Education Trust confirmed to this afternoon that it was non-religious in nature and backed the Coalition’s view that only straight marriages should be legal.

In 2010, the Trust’s director said allowing lesbians to become parents through IVF without the need for a male father figure had “nothing to do with the welfare of children and everything to do with the desires of adults to subvert the natural order”.

In her column today, Widdecombe continues: “So if, as Ms Featherstone claims, marriage is owned by the people maybe she should start listening to the people’s voice.

“I know gays who oppose this measure – as does Christopher Biggins – and one can hardly call them homophobic. People who never go inside a church from one year to the next oppose it.

“Some of those who spoke out in favour of civil partnerships oppose it. Writers on Left-wing newspapers oppose it.

“So as this is the most fundamental change to society in centuries, let David Cameron ask the people what they want. If he insists on pushing ahead then I challenge him to hold a referendum.

“The redefinition of marriage is too big an issue for the state to foist on an unwilling population.”