MOST Hampshire Conservative MPs defied David Cameron last night by voting against plans to legalise gay marriage.
But they were unable to prevent the measure clearing a crucial Commons hurdle - with a majority of 225 - thanks to the overwhelming backing of Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill - allowing same-sex weddings, including ceremonies in some churches that agree - is now poised to become law.
The prime minister, while allowing a free vote, had argued marriage made society stronger “whether you're a man and a woman, a woman and a woman or a man and another man”.
But Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North), Julian Lewis (New Forest East), Steve Brine (Winchester), Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) and Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) all voted 'no' last night.
Mr Brine said today: "This was a free vote as matters of conscience traditionally are. As I said in Parliament, if there is a feeling out there that civil partnerships, which I strongly support, are now somehow not enough the coalition should have produced a green paper to explore options for change. That could have been done in a collegiate way instead of a non-consultation last year leading to a rushed Bill that has horribly divided the entire country and the Government.
"That said, I have received more contact from constituents on this, mostly opposed to the Bill for what it's worth, than any other subject in almost three years and many said to me the coalition should not be spending any time on this and has no mandate for such a major constitutional change. I will be following the Bill extremely closely as it moves into committee."
Ms Nokes protested 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.
She said “the vast majority of my constituents” opposed gay marriage, adding: “I am not convinced the safeguards sought by the Church of England have been guaranteed.”
Tory Mark Hoban (Fareham) did not vote while Desmond Swayne (Conservative, New Forest West) did not register a vote because he was a counter for the yes side.
George Hollingbery (Meon Valley), who voted in favour, said: "This was a free vote and one that was a matter of conscience. I have always believed, and continue to believe, that a defining characteristic of any developed society is that it treats its citizens equally. With that in mind, I voted in favour of the bill.
"In doing so I'm as confident as I can be that both religious institutions and their ministers are completely secure in their right not to have to conduct same sex marriages.
"But equally same sex couples have good reason to question whether society values their long-term commitment to each other in the same way as it does for heterosexual couples. This legislation is the way to answer that question."
John Denham (Southampton Itchen) and Alan Whitehead (Southampton Test) were among the vast majority of Labour MPs who voted for the Bill.
Mr Denham said: “I'm in favour. I believe that gay couples should be able to celebrate their long term love and commitment to each other as straight couples can do.”
The debate was led by Maria Miller, the Conservative Basingstoke MP and Culture Secretary, who said: “The depth of feeling, love and commitment is no different between same-sex couples than opposite-sex couples.”
There was astonishment that Mr Cameron - despite personally pushing forward the gay marriage Bill - was nowhere to be seen when it was debated yesterday.
Some modernising Tories believed the prime minister had ducked a chance to put the case and swing some wavering MPs into voting 'yes'.
HOW YOUR MP VOTED:
• Steve Brine (Con, Winchester) NO
• George Hollingbery (Con, Meon Valley) YES
• John Denham (Lab, Southampton Itchen) YES
• Mark Hoban (Con, Fareham) DID NOT VOTE
• Chris Huhne (Lib Dem, Eastleigh) NO LONGER MP
• Dr Julian Lewis (Con, New Forest East) NO
• Caroline Nokes (Con, Romsey & Southampton North) NO
• Desmond Swayne (Con, New Forest West) Did not vote since a counter for the yes side
• Dr Alan Whitehead (Lab, Southampton Test) YES
• Caroline Dinenage (Con, Gosport) NO
• Maria Miller (Con, Basingstoke) YES
• Andrew Turner (Con, Isle of Wight) NO
• Sir George Young (Con, North West Hampshire) YES