The Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Simon Hughes, has been criticised in an open letter by Lib Dem members, party officers and councillors in his south London constituency of Bermondsey and Old Southwark for abstaining in this month’s vote of the same-sex marriage bill.

Shortly before the Commons passed the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill at third reading on 21 May with a majority of 205 votes, Mr Hughes said he thought that marriage was “gender complimentary”, and that it should be between straight couples only.

“I believe that marriage is ordained by God. I believe it is traditionally ordained by God as between one man and one woman”, he said.

Colleagues and supporters of Mr Hughes have now criticised his decision to abstain, saying they “profoundly disagree”.

In an open letter they wrote:

Dear Simon,

We are writing in response to your decision to abstain on the third reading of the same-sex marriage bill.

We do so in our capacity as members and officers of your constituency party and elected Liberal Democrat councillors in the London Borough of Southwark. In these positions and roles we have worked closely with you on a day-to-day basis for many years and in some cases for over two decades, to serve our party, fellow residents and constituents.

To begin with we would like to congratulate the parliamentary party for overwhelmingly supporting same-sex marriage and for working with other members of Parliament across the political divide to ensure the bill had a significant majority on its third reading. While there is more work to do before the bill becomes law, we hope and believe the commitment of many Members of Parliament in both Houses, will ensure its successful passage into law.

Our support for same-sex marriage as a council group was made clear when we became probably the first council in England to propose a cross party motion at a full council meeting in March 2012 in favour of equal marriage, which was overwhelmingly passed.

It was therefore with a mixture of anger, dismay and regret that we discovered you had abstained on the third reading, despite same-sex marriage being party policy and knowing the strong feelings in favour of this measure of many of your members, activists and constituents.

We understand your decision to abstain was based on your own personal Christian interpretation of marriage. It is not our intention or position to challenge your beliefs, but we do believe you have put these views ahead of equality, and in doing so have caused deep upset and failed to represent many of your strongest supporters.

Simon, you have been an excellent Member of Parliament for over 30 years for the people of Bermondsey and Old Southwark, and have been tireless in the time, work and energy that you have devoted to representing your constituents.

We do not believe your record as an MP should be judged on this vote alone but we wish to put it on record that as members, officers and councillors we profoundly disagree with your decision not to vote for equal marriage and reaffirm our strong support for equality for all.

Signatures of the letter include:

Cllr David Noakes, Jon Phillips, Cllr Anood Al-Samerai, Cllr David Hubber, Cllr Cathy Bowman, Damian O’Brien, Adrian Trett,Gary Glover, Cllr Mark Gettleson, Cllr Poddy Clark, Cllr Adele Morris, Cllr Jeff Hook, Cllr Linda Manchester, James Fearnley, Sally Burnell, Cllr Paul Noblet, Ben Johnson and Cllr Rosie Shimell.