Ukip ready to exploit gay marriage tensions

By Charles Maggs

The government's policy of pushing ahead with gay marriage is tearing the Tory party apart, according to Ukip leader Nigel Farage.

Many Conservative MPs have revealed their local party membership has strong objections to allowing gay marriage ceremonies and more members are even leaving in protest.

Farage claimed there is a gulf between rural and urban voters on the issue and that traditional Conservatives were feeling disillusioned by the policy.

"David Cameron's proposal has the potential to rip apart the traditional rural Tory vote," Farage told the Guardian.

"While Ukip wholly respects the rights of gay people to have civil partnerships, we feel the prime minister's proposals will present an affront to millions of people in this country for whom this will be the final straw."

Some have accused Ukip of opportunism, as opposing gay marriage appears contradictory to the libertarianism the party often preaches.

But party chairman Steve Crowther told "As a libertarian party we have no objection to gay partnerships per se, but we are opposed to the bill.

"Libertarianism is about balancing people's rights. To deliver virtually no new rights at all for gay people the government is steamrolling those of religious people.

"They are picking a fight with millions of people of many faith communities for no benefit."

A poll released today suggests that most people support the principle of gay marriage, however.

Research by YouGov, released today, says that 55% of the public are in favour of the move, with it being most popular among Labour supporters at 60%.

"All of the recent polling we have done on this issue has found that a majority of the British public support the right of same-sex couples to have full equal marriage," said Joe Twyman, director of political and social research for YouGov.

"However, dig a little deeper and we can see that Conservative voters remain more divided on this issue, with a slightly higher proportion who are opposed."

Over 100 Conservative MPs had planned to vote against the bill, which has strong support from Liberal Democrats and most Labour MPs.

Cameron announced earlier this week that when it comes before the house it will be a free vote. Many Conservatives had opposed the bill, arguing it had no mandate because it was not in the Conservative or Liberal Democrat party manifestos.