Sir Edward Garnier, the Conservative MP and former solicitor general, has told a constituent that gay couples in civil partnerships should feel free to describe their relationships as a marriage, although it should not require a change in the law.

Sir Edward, who has recently been assisting Conservative peer Lord Mcalpine with his defamation case, made the comments in a letter to a constituent.

Andrew Hawkins-Kennedy asked the MP, who has represented Harborough in Leicestershire since 1992, if he was prepared to support equal marriage.

It was after Sir Edward’s name was featured in a Daily Mail list of Conservative MPs, who have been cited as expressing reservations over the measure.

Mr Hawkins-Kennedy warned that he would not vote for the MP again if he did not support marriage equality.

In response, Sir Edward said:

I am afraid that threats of not voting for me or assertions of dishonour because I seem not to share your opinions on same-sex marriage are neither persuasive nor attractive. I don’t read the Daily Mail so have not seen the article to which you refer but as I seem to recall suggesting to you many months ago, if you want to call yourself married it won’t offend me nor will it get you into trouble with the law. It is not about equality – that is not the right noun – but about celebrating, accepting and describing difference in a non-prejudicial way both in the language we use and in law.

I just happen to believe that a civil partnership between two people of the same sex, although a perfectly acceptable state of affairs and one which brings with it the public attributes of marriage (taxation, succession to tenancies, inheritance etc) is not a marriage properly so-called because that necessarily involves two people of the opposite sex.

This does not mean that I am anti-gay or think you and your partner are lesser (or for that matter, better) people than your neighbours or any other couple or that your public proclamation of love for each other is less sincere than those my wife and I made when we were married. The fact that you are, and I hope I have remembered this correctly from our earlier correspondence, in a civil partnership is a matter both of private happiness and joy to you and evidence of the massively changed attitudes in society since the 1950′s and before.

I celebrate those changes and have no political, social, religious or moral concerns about there being civil partnerships under English law. I am afraid though that I cannot be persuaded that civil partnerships, for all their merits, are marriages but if you think they are don’t worry about me.

Go ahead and enjoy your life together and don’t allow the difference between your views and mine on this one word, marriage, to be the cause of anguish to you. If ever we meet and you would like me to describe you as part of a married couple I will do so without the slightest hesitation but I don’t think we need to change statute law to bring that about.

I wish you every happiness whether you vote for me or not.

Edward Garnier

Mr Hawkins-Kennedy said he was “shocked and hurt” by Sir Edward’s “unpleasant” email.