By Tim Montgomerie
Follow Tim on Twitter.
It's not been a good week for Church/Tory relations. The week began with Anglican Bishops voting against Iain Duncan Smith's attempt to bring sanity to the welfare system and ends with the Archbishop of York warning the Prime Minister that he's behaving like a dictator in wanting to introduce gay marriage. John Sentamu's unnecessarily confrontational language may be over the top but his basic position is supported by many Tory members. Asked in December if the law should be changed so that gay people can marry, only 30% said yes and 60% said no*.
The Conservative Party dragged its feet on gay rights for a very long time. Since becoming Tory leader David Cameron has worked hard to change that. From the start of his leadership he attempted to modernise social conservatism. He has bought permission for his pro-marriage agenda by promising to include gay people within it. The PM understands what US columnist David Brooks has advocated: "[Conservatives] shouldn't just allow gay marriage. We should insist on gay marriage. We should regard it as scandalous that two people could claim to love each other and not want to sanctify their love with marriage and fidelity."
The PM is more in tune with public opinion than most Tory activists. In June 2009 Populus for The Times (£) found a two-thirds majority (61% to 33%) supportive of the proposition that "gay couples should have an equal right to get married, not just to have civil partnerships".
Nonetheless there is unhappiness within the parliamentary Tory party at Mr Cameron's move. There has been talk of a rebellion of 100 Tory MPs, led by David Burrowes. One of David Burrowes' worries is that gay marriage will "open up a can of worms and a legal minefield about freedom, religion and equalities legislation". The Coalition is clear, however, that no church, mosque or synagogue will ever be required to conduct a same-sex marriage and religious liberty will be written into any legislation. As long as this is a watertight safeguard I support what the Coalition is doing. We need gay rights to coexist alongside freedom of religious expression.
The Government, meantime, could do more to worry about murderous attacks on religious liberty overseas. The Arab Spring has become a Winter for Christians and it's not clear that the FCO has acted on that fact.
* ConservativeHome survey of more than 2,000 members.