Same-sex marriage is set to become legal in Britain after the House of Commons shrugged off a revolt by Tory MPs to vote for a bill allowing gay couples to marry — and offering them the same legal rights as heterosexual couples enjoy.

But the Church of England, which opposes the measure, has been given an exemption from conducting gay marriages, though there are fears that it could be challenged in the European Court of Human Rights.

The vote exposed the deep split between Tory “modernizers” led by Prime Minister David Cameron and the “old” Tories who remain resistant to change. With more than half the Tory MPs, including several ministers, voting against the bill, Mr. Cameron was left on the mercy of his coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, and the Opposition Labour MPs to push it through.

His opponents accused him of buying cheap popularity by focusing on gay marriage while ignoring more pressing economic issues.

The revolt left him politically weakened sparking speculation that it could cost him the next general election. The party, however, tried to put up a brave face arguing that since the MPs had been given a free vote their action could not be described as a “revolt”.

Mr. Cameron called the bill “an important step forward for the country”.

“I am a strong believer in marriage and I think that it’s right that gay people should be able to get married too....this is about equality but it’s also about making our society stronger,’’ he said.

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