Downing Street has bowed to ministerial opposition to its plans to legalise gay marriage by giving all MPs a free vote.
No 10 had planned on forcing the Liberal Democrat-backed change through parliament, but growing warnings of rebellion from increasingly senior figures prompted a retreat. MPs will now be able to vote according to their conscience rather than told how to vote by party managers.
After Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson made clear he would not support gay marriage - adding his dissent to indications of opposition from defence secretary Philip Hammond and children's minister Tim Loughton - Downing Street accepted the free vote would apply to members of the government as well as backbench MPs.
Tory backbenchers had warned of "serious divisions" if the whips sought to force them to back the measure.
It was identified alongside Lords reform as a policy area which the government was wrong to prioritise after the Conservatives suffered their worst local election results in 15 years.
Now the chances of civil partnerships being replaced by a form of gay marriage placed on an equal footing with heterosexual marriages are being viewed as significantly reduced.
A free vote will reveal Tory faultlines on the issue but would be unlikely to result in defeat for the move, as Lib Dem MPs and most opposition MPs could be expected to back gay marriage.
Securing parliamentary time for the legislation establishing gay marriage seems less certain, however. A bill was not included in this year's Queen's Speech, meaning it would have to compete with other divisive measures as the coalition enters its final two years.