Conservative MP Henry Smith has described MPs who abstained in last week’s vote of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill as “chickens”.

The MP for Crawley, West Sussex, says he has no regrets in voting against the bill, although he admits that he never expected to be on the winning side.

“I voted the way I thought was right because civil partnerships afford the same legal rights as marriage,” the MP said to Crawley News. “I never expected to win the vote but I don’t vote simply to be on the winning side.”

“Abstaining is the chicken’s way out,” he said. “I think that you are elected to sit in parliament and vote on these key issues. If you are asked a question, you owe it to the people who elected you to come up with an answer and not bottle out.”

Last Tuesday, MPs voted in favour of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill by 400 to 175, a majority of 225.

However, 35 Tories did not vote on the bill and 136 Conservatives, including Mr Smith, voted against.

The Public Bill Committee of the House of Commons is now subjecting the bill to further scruntiny.

Mr Smith told Crawley News that he was disappointed on how polarised the equal marriage debate had become.

“There is very little middle ground it seems. There are people on one extreme who think that if you are against gay marriage then you have bigoted views against gay people.”

He added: “And there are those on the other extreme who have jumped to conclusions and aired some extreme opinions.

“I have never taken any moral stance on this issue. I believe that everyone should be free to make their own lifestyle choices and I have absolutely no problem with homosexuality. It has been around since the dawn of time.”

Mr Smith admitted that the issue has caused some tension between him and his own friends. He said: “I have a number of gay friends in Crawley and, I won’t lie, it has been difficult.

“Just going out for drinks with them, in the last couple of months it has been a little bit more of a stilted relationship.”

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