A Conservative MP has claimed that only a “tiny number” of gay people actually want the right to marry.

Edward Leigh, the MP for Gainsborough, questioned why the language of marriage should be “mangled” and suggested that changing the law would lead to recognising polygamy.

He wrote on his website: “The British are a tolerant people and it is right that homosexual people should be allowed to get on with their lives.

“But this does not extend to mangling the language of marriage so that, for the sake of the tiny number of gay people who prefer marriage to civil partnership, everyone else in society must have the definition of their own marriage altered forever.

“Once we have departed from the universally understood framework of marriage, there is no logical reason why the new alternative institution should be limited to two people. Why not three? Or thirty-three?”

Mr Leigh also claimed that most gay people do not want the right to marry.

He said: “Why must they also have the language of marriage? No doubt because it is an important symbol to them. But it is also an important symbol to many other people. Must the religious and cultural heritage of the whole nation be overturned to suit the demands of a minority even of the gay community itself?”

It is not clear what Mr Leigh, who has always voted against gay rights, based this claim on.

A recent PinkNews.co.uk poll of 800 readers found that 98 per cent wanted the right to marry.

Seventy-seven per cent agreed that marriage and civil partnerships should be open to everyone, while 23 per cent said that marriage should be the only form of recognition for all couples.

A Populus opinion poll for the Times in June 2009 found that 61 per cent of the public believe that ‘gay couples should have an equal right to get married, not just to have civil partnerships’. Only 33 per cent disagreed.

Mr Leigh may have been referring to comments made by the chief executive of Stonewall Ben Summerskill. In 2009, he told PinkNews.co.uk: “We know there are quite a lot of gay and lesbian people who wouldn’t want marriage, and some have explicitly said so.”

The government announced yesterday that it would allow religious civil partnerships and begin consulting on allowing gay people to marry.

Equality minister Lynne Featherstone insisted that the plans have the support of the entire government and that there had been no resistance from Tory ministers.

“I am fully supported by all of government over these plans going forward,” she said.