Former children’s minister Tim Loughton has defended his opposition to equal marriage and has described the Church of England’s marriage service as “a gift of God in creation through which husband and wife may know the grace of God”.

On his website, the Conservative MP, who represents Worthing in West Sussex, wrote:

“What has particularly annoyed me in this whole debate is the tendency for certain elements of the lobby in favour of gay marriage instantly to caricature anyone who is against as homophobic.

“In my case, certainly nothing could be further from the truth and as Minister for Children and Youth I particularly value the work I have done with LGBT young people and community groups.”

Both Mr Loughton and his neighbouring Crawley MP Henry Smith have signed a letter accusing the coalition of acting without a mandate in relation to equal marriage.

Earlier this month, Mr Smith admitted to a local newspaper that his own wife doesn’t agree with him when it comes to opposing equal marriage.

The Conservative Party’s LGBT group wrote to all 303 Tory MPs in December calling on them to support equal marriage rights for gay couples and reminded them that the party had incorporated the issue in a 2010 election document.