LONDON (REUTERS) - Members of British Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative party urged him on Sunday to delay a parliamentary vote this week on gay marriage, warning the issue could weaken the party and harm his chances of re-election.
Cameron has pledged his personal support for a gay marriage bill but many in his party and among his legislators oppose it on moral grounds and say the government has no mandate to push it through parliament.
As the bill is supported by Britain's two other main parties, opposition Labour and Conservative coalition partners the Liberal Democrats, it is in no danger of being defeated.
But a letter signed by 25 past and present chairmen of local Conservative associations was handed in to Cameron's Downing Street residence on Sunday afternoon by six of the signatories.
"We feel very strongly that the decision to bring this bill before parliament has been made without adequate debate or consultation with either the membership of the Conservative Party or with the country at large," the letter said.
It added: "Resignations from the party are beginning to multiply and we fear that, if enacted, this bill will lead to significant damage to the Conservative Party in the run-up to the 2015 election."
One Conservative association leader, Geoffrey Vero, said Cameron should have taken the issue more slowly.
"I think a number of Conservative supporters and voters will sit on their hands on the issue and that may well seriously affect David's opportunity to get re-elected in 2015," he told Sky TV.
"We think that is a dangerous risk to take with your core supporters."
The proposals, due to come into effect in England and Wales in 2014, will also allow civil partners to convert their partnership to a marriage and enable married people to change their legal gender without having to end their union.