Top Tories including Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have defied party traditionalists by launching a new group to campaign for gay marriage.

The London mayor and Education Secretary are among more than a dozen senior figures backing moves to allow same-sex weddings to be held in places of worship.

The issue has sparked a serious rift in the Conservative Party, with more than 100 of its MPs expected to oppose the change in the Commons next year.

Some have criticised David Cameron for "arrogance" in pushing ahead with the plans, despite his promise of a free vote.

Under the proposals, due to be fleshed out this week, churches and other venues will be allowed to "opt in" to holding civil marriage ceremonies.

As well as Mr Johnson and Mr Gove, it includes Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, who is Catholic, Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt, an evangelical Christian, former Tory ministers Lord Fowler and Nicholas Soames and Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson.

In a letter announcing the formation of the group, the 19 declared: "Marriage should be open to all, regardless of sexuality.

"We recognise that civil partnerships were an important step forward in giving legal recognition to same sex couples.

"But civil partnerships are not marriages, which express a particular and universally understood commitment."