Liberal Democrat MPs will be whipped into backing gay marriage unlike their Tory counterparts, Nick Clegg insisted this morning.
In a comment which will be seen as an implicit criticism of the prime minister, Mr Clegg said he did not support David Cameron's decision to allow Tory ministers and MPs a free vote on gay marriage.
"He is leader of his party, I am leader of mine," the deputy prime minister said.
"If this was an issue of the government proposing something that's a matter of religion or the church, of course that would be a matter of conscience. It's not.
"My view is in same way civil partnerships was a whipped vote, this should not be subject to a free-for-all.
"We should now do this. We're not asking any person with religious convictions to sacrifice anything."
The gay marriage plans only apply to non-religious buildings. Religious groups will still not be able to conduct weddings even if they want to – a restriction Labour opposes.
That caveat has led some to claim that the free vote, which is usually reserved to sensitive moral issues like abortion, is not applicable to what is ultimately a matter of civil law.