The Queen is expected to be asked to give her approval to the Bill – one of the most radical pieces of social legislation of her reign – by the end of this week.
But opponents accused the Government of using a parliamentary “bulldozer” to speed the change through
The passage of the Bill brings an end to one of the most acrimonious debates of recent years which has divided the Conservative party and, at times, pitted Church against State. Speaking earlier, Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, claimed that despite huge controversy, most people would soon be asking: “What was all the fuss about?”.
But the Coalition for Marriage, the group which orchestrated opposition to the Bill, is now set to transform itself from a single-issue campaign into what could be one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the country.
The C4M has built up a database of around 700,000 supporters through its petition against the redefinition of marriage. Its leaders now believe they have enough support to influence the outcome of the 2015 election.
They have compiled a list of 39 of the most marginal seats they plan to target and in which enough people signed the C4M petition to suggest they could swing the election result.
They plan to challenge candidates of all parties to back a list of commitments to introduce new legal protections for workers such as teachers and registrars who hold to a traditional line on marriage.
They will also be campaigning to open up civil partnerships to allow family carers and unmarried siblings to benefit from the same inheritance tax exemptions as married couples.
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, said: “It’s impossible to express how much joy this historic step will bring to tens of thousands of gay people and their families and friends.
“The Bill’s progress through Parliament shows that, at last, the majority of politicians in both Houses understand the public’s support for equality – though it’s also reminded us that gay people still have powerful opponents.”
But Colin Hart, campaign director of the C4M said: “Mr Cameron needs to remember that the Coalition for Marriage has nearly 700,000 supporters, nearly six times the number of members of the Conservative Party.
“They are just ordinary men and women, not part of the ruling elite. They are passionate, motivated and determined to fight on against a law that renders terms like husband and wife meaningless and threatens one of the foundations of the institution of marriage: fidelity and faithfulness.
“These concepts may not matter to the leaders of the three main political parties, who are drawn from a very narrow liberal political class, but they do matter to people up and down the country who believe that marriage is special, unique and the bedrock of stable families.”
In what was, at times, an emotional debate, Lord Alli, the Labour peer, said it had been “truly humbling” to play a leading role in driving the bill through the Lords.
Speaking of his 15 years as a peer, he thanked the House of Lords, adding: “As a gay man over those 15 years you have changed my life.
“You have given me dignity where there was sometimes fear. You have given me hope where there was often darkness and you have given me equality where there was sometimes prejudice. “This is a special place and I am proud to have figured in it.”
Lord Lester of Herne Hill, the Liberal Democrat QC, said it would have been “quite inconceivable” for the Lords to have approved such legislation 20 years ago.
“It would have been fairly impossible 15 years ago,” he added.
“What has changed for the better has been the modernisation through appointments to this House.”
The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham James, said that despite the Church’s opposition to gay marriage legal recognition for gay relationships had made society “healthier”.
He said it was “no secret” that the majority of Christian churches and other world faiths “don’t believe same-sex marriage accords with their understanding of marriage itself”.
But he added: “Many of us do welcome the social and legal recognition of same-sex partnerships and believe our society is a better and healthier one for such recognition.”
Lord Cormack, the former Tory MP, who opposed the bill, said it would be “churlish” not to accept that the supporters had won.
He said: “I want to congratulate all those who have campaigned for this measure upon their success.
“But in doing that I would just ask them to bear in mind that although this may be a day of unqualified rejoicing for them, there are many in our country who by no stretch of the imagination could be called either homophobic or bigoted who are unhappy about this Bill.
They are unhappy about this Bill because it does strange the structure of society by changing the definition of marriage.
“I hope that all those who enter into marriage under its new definition will indeed live happily ever after.
“But the sincerity of that wish in no sense prevents my saying to them I understand that you feel euphoric today but please have a thought for those who have different views.
“Please have a thought to the many, not just thousands but millions of people in this country for whom marriage will always be equated with what remains the Christian definition of marriage and I hope that in recognising that they will always remember the great Churchillian motto: magnanimity in victory.”
Mr Clegg told the website PinkNews.co.uk: “Of course … it has come about in a blaze of controversy [and] I think that was probably always going to be inevitable.
“[But] my own sense is once the bill is actually on the Statue Book and once you start seeing same-sex marriages up and down the country – as I hope we see as quickly as possible – then I think actually people will look back on it and think ‘what was all the fuss about’, very quickly it will seem entirely normal.” source – Telegraph UK