The UK Independence Party has pledged to exploit divisions within the Conservative Party, stemming from the equal marriage debate, and have vowed to attempt to pick up votes lost by the Tories.

On Tuesday, Culture Secretary, Maria Miller confirmed that full marriage equality will be introduced for gay couples living in England and Wales next year.

Ms Miller announced the government’s plans to bring forward marriage equality, and that the intention was for religious institutions to be allowed to ‘opt-in’ to performing same-sex marriages, except for the Church of England, and the Church in Wales for which it will be illegal.

In a nod to the change from Old Labour to New, David Cameron’s stance supporting equal marriage has been dubbed his “Clause IV moment”, reports the Guardian. 

The leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage flagged his party’s plans to put this issue at the heart of its 2014 campaign for the European Parliamentary election. He said:

“David Cameron’s proposal has the potential to rip apart the traditional rural Tory vote. While UKIP wholly respects the rights of gay people to have civil partnerships, we feel the prime minister’s proposals will present an affront to millions of people in this country for whom this will be the final straw.

“The division between city and rural is absolutely huge. In my village pub in Kent they are just completely against.”

He said he thought the issue of equal marriage could serve UKIP well, by highlighting the impact the European Court of Human Rights has on UK politics, and that UKIP can rally support around such issues.

“Ukip is not a one-issue party,” he said. “But the gay marriage case is closely interwoven with the European court of human rights, as is so much of our life. UKIP will be seen to be a party campaigning not just about who governs Britain but about how we think that Britain should be governed.”

MP for Arundel and South Downs Nick Herbert coordinated the formation of a new campaign group, which launched on Sunday, in support of equal marriage called “Freedom to Marry,” which is formed of nineteen senior Conservatives, including Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.

Mr Farage’s announcement came as The Arundel and South Downs Association, confirmed there had been resignations of the equal marriage plans. Councillor Gordon Marples, deputy chairman of the association said:

“Views are polarised. We have seen people resign on a point of principle. It is contentious. It is a big issue. It is not something I would have sought. I don’t have any particularly strong views on it. I just believe in equality and this is the way society is moving.”

“I understand where Nick [Herbert] is coming from. He is in a civil partnership but he and I are not going to fall out on this. I understand David Cameron trying to modernise the Conservative party. But for most people it is rather like the AV vote – the timing seems to be quite unusual.”

Councillor Frank Wilkinson, another officer of the Arundel association, said he personally supported Mr Herbert, but that fundamentally he could not agree with him. He said:

“If gay people want to have a civil ceremony that is fine by me, if they want to live together and love one another that is fine by me. But I am of the age now where I am a traditionalist – I have been married to my dear wife for 52 years – and I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. I can’t change my mind on that. But I have every respect for people who want to love their lives as they do.”

Conservative MP for Rugby, Mark Pawsey, said he still thinks it is wrong to allow marriage equality, saying that nearly half of the babies in the UK had come from married couples, and suggested a link between equal marriage plans, and potentially declining numbers of married couples.

“Given that marriage rates in Spain and Holland collapsed after same-sex marriage was introduced there, are you not concerned that even fewer people intending to have children will choose to get married?”

Stewart Jackson, MP for Peterborough and member of the Public Accounts Committee, spoke out following Mrs Miller’s announcement, saying:

“I believe these proposals are a constitutional outrage, and a disgrace. There is no electoral mandate for these policies.”

Roger Gale, MP for North Thanet in Kent, suggested that 98% of his constituents were opposed to equal marriage, and Peter Bone, MP for Wellingborough said:

“How dare the Secretary of State suggest that she has any right, any mandate, to bring in this legislation… you need a mandate for this. This whole exercise would have gone down well with Joseph Stalin.”

According to Government whips, 60% of the 303 Tory MPs will support the proposed legislation when it comes to a free-vote. The measure will need the support of Labour and the Lib Dems to pass.

Although he will not be whipping all his MPs to vote for equal marriage, the leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband has said that his entire shadow cabinet backs the move.

The Guardian reported that a recent Ipsos-MORI poll for Freedom to Marry suggested that 73% of voters supported equal marriage, and that just 24% opposed it.

Although the Catholic Church and Church of England are opposed to equal marriage, faith groups such as the Quakers, and Liberal Judaism support marriage rights for gay couples and have also stated they would like to provide the ceremonies.