Conor Burns, the gay Conservative MP for Bournemouth West, Branksome East and Alderney, says the gay community has expressed “no clamour” of support for the right to marry.

In an interview with the Belfast News Letter, the Ulster-born Catholic MP argued that civil partnership legislation had granted gay couples all of the necessary legal entitlements.

Mr Burns said: “I marvel at why we’re bringing this forward; there is no clamour for this at all within the gay community.

“I’m very concerned – and I’m going to need some serious convincing about this – that while the Human Rights Act remains in place we cannot give the guarantees that I would want to see that churches would not ultimately be forced under human rights legislation to conduct such ceremonies”.

Mr Burns added: “I would want, if this bill becomes law, cast iron guarantees that any religious organisation who on religious grounds object to it would not ultimately be compelled to do that”.

The MP also said there was currently no “compelling” reason to “redefine” marriage.

His comments are likely to be used by the opponents of equal marriage, who have been in the spotlight since last week’s high-profile rally against the backdrop of the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham.

Over the past year, senior ministers have repeatedly stated that religious freedom will be maintained under the coalition’s equal marriage proposals.

However, this has not reduced the concerns of several opponents such as former shadow home secretary David Davis, who remains unconvinced by the government’s assurances.

The UK’s Human Rights Act is part of the European Convention on Human Rights and critics have already argued it is undermining religious freedom.

Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, the vice president of the Law Society, previously said in June of this year that it was unlikely that the European Court of Human Rights would rule against a religious organisation in a same-sex marriage legal case.

However, in May, David Davis cited the recent prosecutions of Christian bed and breakfast owners, as reasons to justify the legal concerns of religious equal marriage opponents.