Colin Hart, the director of the UK’s main Christian lobby group that opposes equal marriage, has been denounced in the House of Commons by Conservative MP Sir Peter Bottomley.

The West Sussex Tory MP believes Mr Hunt’s Coalition for Marriage organisation (C4M) has been responsible for misleading the public into believing that churches will be forced into conducting marriages for gay couples as part of the government’s reforms.

During an exchange on Monday with Culture Secretary Maria Miller, Sir Peter said:

“I suspect that the opposition to the government’s proposals would be far less if Mr Colin Hart and his so-called Coalition for Marriage had not sent out hundreds of thousands of letters aimed at constituents of particular political persuasions to say that they should not vote for their party if the proposals go ahead.

“May I challenge Mr Hart, through my right hon. Friend, to come into the open and justify what he has done, and to defend himself to the Archbishop of York and the former Archbishop of Canterbury? I think that what has happened is disgusting.”

In response, the culture secretary said:

“My hon. Friend is right that we have to look at the facts when it comes to the ability of religious organisations to continue to determine what happens in their own precincts, organisations and churches.

“There has been quite a lot of hyperbole over the implications of what we are talking about. The government’s objective is simple: we want to ensure that marriage, which is a hugely valued part of our society, is open to more people. I think that should be applauded.”