I'm really not one for watching Conservative Party Conferences. But there is one thing I remember from David Cameron's speech to his party's faithful last year - and that was his wife, Samantha, offering evidently heartfelt applause when he insisted that "backing gay marriage is a very Conservative thing to do". Perhaps, I imagined naively, a corner has been turned; maybe the historic Tory hostility towards LGBT rights has finally been put to sleep.
It seems, however, that some of Cameron's MPs are significantly less enthusiastic than his wife on such matters. With the government championing an end the ban on same-sex civil marriage, it has been reported that over 100 Conservative MPs are set to revolt. The Independent quotes David Burrowes MP (who receives interns from far-right Christian "charity" CARE and is the founder of the Conservative Christian Fellowship), who believes that "there is strong opposition to gay marriage across the Conservative Party spectrum... It would open up a can of worms and a legal minefield about freedom, religion and equalities legislation. Gay marriage is a debate we don't need to have at this stage. It is not an issue people are hammering us on the doorstep to do something about." Burrowes added: "It is important that there is a reasoned debate around how we view marriage rather than about homosexual rights. It may open up old wounds and put people into the trenches; no one wants that."
He insisted he was "cautiously optimistic" that the rebels would defeat the government.
Unfortunately, what Borrowes and his Tory rebel friends are giving us is not, in fact, reasoned debate, but simple prejudice. Whether the "strong opposition" he refers to is more real than imagined I don't know, although I suspect there is a certain amount of wishful thinking on his part. I can't imagine that a section of Tory backbenchers, however large - and even with the collective support of the mighty Democratic Unionist Party - has any realistic chance of defeating the proposals which are sure to be supported by Labour. As for "opening up a minefield about freedom, religion and equality" - that's just what Burrowes and his ilk will do, while simultaneously undermining the Prime Minister's attempts to modernise the Conservative Party and reinforcing the perception that the Tories are, socially speaking, a less than progressive bunch of intolerant bigots.
These Tory MPs might see the argument as about "gay marriage" but that is disingenuous. There is no such thing as gay marriage. Marriage is marriage is marriage is marriage. Marriages are not gay, bisexual or straight. They are expressions of love between two people. At the heart of the matter is not a pseudo-philosophical debate about the nature of marriage but an altogether more pertinent question about social equality.
I can only imagine what Ruth Davidson makes of this.
In Scotland, we've experienced these quasi-arguments before. No-one is convinced by them. In recent months the Roman Catholic Church has taken every opportunity possible to portray itself as the very epitome of reaction and intolerance, demonstrating its irrelevance to modern Scottish society in the process. The Tories should take note, and perhaps take a leaf out of the Church of Scotland's book: at least the Kirk realises there are times when nothing is often a very sensible thing to do, and almost always a very sensible thing to say.
I can only speculate at the potential motives of these Tory rebels. It was sufficiently embarrassing that over 80 rebelled over Europe, but Euroskeptic rebellions are part and parcel of life as a Conservative backbencher. It's what they live for and, to a point, what some of their voters identify with. Marriage equality is another issue and I suspect that the determination to rebel stems from increasing frustration at the role of Lib Dems, coupled with Cameron's "liberalising" agenda. They see "their" party being taken from them, the attitudes they held so dear being challenged, their black-and-white worlds of social normality being irrevocably shattered as ignorance and intolerance are replaced with acceptance and equality. I pity them; to be so insecure about their own "moral certainties" must be a hugely painful experience. To be deluded beyond measure about their political relevance while lacking any insight into their pathologically flawed collective condition is an even worse situation that will only lend itself to repeated frustration.
Such a rebellion is not to be feared. There is no doubt that it will cause a great deal of embarrassment for Mr Cameron but other than that it will have little impact but to reinforce all the negative perceptions of the backwards-looking attitudes associated with "old Tories". It will be seen as proof that leopards don't change their spots, while broad support from Lib Dems, Labour and the more sober-minded Tory MPs will ensure that Lynne Featherstone will be allowed to press ahead with a full consultation on amending marriage laws. Given that there was no agreed position on marriage equality within the coalition agreement, this is quite a triumph for the Liberal Democrats and Lynne Featherstone in particular.
Relics of a previous era who would deny equality on the basis of something as superficial as sexuality will be defeated, because they deserve to be. They will drift into political obscurity for the same reason.
Meanwhile, closer to home, I hope to be attending an Equal Marriage reception at Holyrood at the end of the month. Following its own consultation, will the Scottish government have the courage to take a lead on this and legislate for full marriage equality? Like Mr Burrowes I'm cautiously optimistic but, unlike him, have more than sufficient reason to be positive.