The UK Independence Party has restated its opposition to equal marriage rights for gay couples.

In a statement released on its website, following Thursday’s by-election in Manchester Central, where the party came within five votes of pushing the Conservatives into fourth place, UKIP said:

“[Our] position on this issue may be stated simply: while UKIP fully supports the concept of civil partnerships, it opposes the move to legislate for same-sex marriage”.

In a lengthy statement, UKIP added that marriage equality was “not a burning issue,” and that “it is not a matter which animates the daily discourse of our nation.

“There is, apart from a small but noisy minority within the gay community, no strong demand for this.

“This is therefore not vital to the life and well-being of our nation and, given the risks attendant upon it, should not be proceeded with.”

At the start of the week Maria Miller, the culture secretary and minister for equalities, confirmed that gay couples would be banned from suing churches that refuse to marry them – as part of the government’s equal marriage policy to protect religious freedoms.

However, UKIP remain unconvinced by her assurances, with the statement saying:

“We strongly fear – as do most of the churches and faiths of our country – that, whatever the intentions of the government are in this regard, such an illiberal step will be forced on them by the Strasbourg Court…

“A court which has a well-established track record of forcing the United Kingdom to adopt positions, such as votes for prisoners, which are anathema to our people. We believe that this case will be no different”.

The results of last night’s Corby by-election show UKIP pushed the Liberal Democrats into fourth place, with Labour taking the seat from the Conservatives.

Ahead of the vote, Coalition for Marriage (C4M), the UK lobby group that opposes marriage rights for gay couples, delivered 46,000 leaflets in the constituency, and called on voters to reject the coalition’s marriage reforms.