A majority of the British public support changing the law to allow marriage rights for gay couples, but Conservative voters are divided on the issue, according to a YouGov poll.

Released on Wednesday, a day after the government unveiled its formal plans to allow gay couples to marry in England and Wales from 2013 – the poll showed 55% of the British public support equal marriage, but Conservative voters are divided on the issue with 46% in favour, 48% opposed and the rest say they don’t know.

The YouGov poll comes after a declaration made by UKIP leader Nigel Farage that David Cameron’s support for equal marriage would “rip apart” the Conservative Party.

Meanwhile, 60% of Labour voters support equal marriage, and an overwhelming 77% of Liberal Democrats are in favour of the change.

There was also a considerable divide between men and women on the issue, with only 48% of men in support of marriage equality (43% are opposed) compared to 62% support amongst women (28% are opposed).

According to the poll, 45% of the public support changing the law to allow gay couples to marry in registry offices and licenced venues, but in keeping religious weddings in churches to those between a man and a woman, while 41% oppose this approach and 14% say they don’t know.

Elsewhere, 53% say they support giving churches the choice of whether or not to offer same-sex marriages, while 37% oppose this and 10% don’t know.

Meanwhile, a new Ipsos MORI poll for Freedom to Marry showed 73% of British adults think gay people should be allowed to get married to each other while a quarter (24%) do not support equal marriage.

Yesterday, the results of the government’s public consultation showed 53% are in favour of the introduction of equal marriage.