Guildford Borough Council in Surrey has voted not to support the government’s plans to allow gay and straight couples an equal right to a civil marriage ceremony, saying it would be ‘inappropriate’ to take a view.

546 people had signed a petition calling on the council to back the government plans for marriage equality.

The Surrey Advertiser reports that Conservative council leader Tony Rooth and Liberal Democrat leader David Goodwin respectively raised and seconded a motion for the council not to take a view on marriage.

Former Liberal Democrat Councillor Chris Ward had started the petition to lobby the Surrey council to support the proposals.

He told the paper: “They need to learn the difference between something that is a matter of conscience and something that is so controversial they are too scared to talk about it.

“I was a councillor for four years and they don’t like this sort of debate, so I was not optimistic at the beginning.

“But we are not going away – there is a very strong group now and at the very least the council knows it’s a very vocal community that will continue to campaign.”

The vote was not recorded and Mr Ward said it was “cowardice” on the parts of councillors not to put their names to the view that the council should not actively support the move. He said the government action would depend on “whether our parliamentarians have the guts to do something bold”.

Councillor Rooth said: “While the council recognises the strength of feeling expressed on this subject, it does not consider it appropriate to express a corporate view as a local authority because the issues of same-sex marriage and civil partnerships are a matter of personal conscience for each individual and the council has no powers or responsibilities relating to the registration of marriages and civil partnerships.”