MPS tonight (Tuesday, February 5) backed a controversial Bill to legalise gay marriage - but David Cameron suffered the embarrassment of most Tories refusing to support the move.

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill - allowing same-sex weddings, including ceremonies in some churches that agree to host them - is now poised to become law.

But it only cleared a crucial Commons hurdle because of the overwhelming backing of Labour and the Lib Dems, despite being spearheaded by the prime minister A total of 134 Conservatives MPs opposed the legislation, on a free vote, and 35 more abstained - with only 126 in favour.

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The vote, exposing a Tory party split down the middle on an issue that has provoked fury in many shires, damaged Mr Cameron’s attempts to project a modernising image.

As long ago as 2006, the future prime minister had argued for marriage “whether you're a man and a woman, a woman and a woman or a man and another man”.

And, in 2011, Mr Cameron told his party the reform would bind society together, saying: “I don’t support gay marriage in spite of being a Conservative - I support gay marriage because I am a Conservative.”

But many Conservatives protested there was no mandate for introducing gay marriage, because it was not included in the party's 2010 general election manifesto.

And others argued that - despite government promises of a “quadruple lock” of legal protections – churches could face a court challenge if they refused to allow gay couples to marry there.

Among Tories voting ‘no’ were James Wharton (Stockton South) and Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton), who had both previously stated their opposition to the measure.

Mr Wharton raised fears that churches would be forced to perform ceremonies, while Ms McIntosh insisted marriage should remain “the union of a man and a woman”.

Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) and Julian Sturdy (York Outer) also voted against, while William Hague (Richmond), the Foreign Secretary, was a strong supporter.

Almost all of the region’s Labour MPs supported gay marriage, although Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) and Pat Glass (Durham North West) missed the vote.

Mr Cunningham was abroad today (Tuesday, February 5), but had previously written to constituents to express his “reservations about it”, suggesting he would abstain.

A spokesman said: “He is not comfortable supporting the legislation, because of his personally held convictions.

“Alex believes that civil partnerships are sufficient and is not sure what changing from that status quo actually achieves?”

There was astonishment that David Cameron – despite personally pushing forward the gay marriage Bill – was nowhere to be seen when it was debated today.

Meanwhile, Margot James, the first openly lesbian Conservative MP, warned the Tories – like the Republicans, in the United States – risked losing elections if they stuck to a “socially Conservative agenda”.

At the weekend, 25 chairmen, or former, chairmen of Conservative party associations – including from Thirsk and Malton and Scarborough – spoke out against the Bill.

They wrote to Mr Cameron to warn that the policy will cause “significant damage” to the Conservatives at the 2015 general election.