A delegate for the Scottish Liberal Democrats has said that in-party opposition to same-sex marriage is not a matter of free speech, and that “discriminatory views” cannot be defended or justified through religious “belief in a sky being.”

During a debate in Glasgow on a report of the Parliamentary party’s work, delegate Callum Leslie said that the one thing uniting the Liberal Democrats was “equality for all” and that homophobia has no place in the party.

Lib Dem chief whip Alistair Carmichael argued while respect for equality was vital, individuals also had a right to free expression and freedom of religion.

Mr Carmichael said although he was “very proud” the overwhelming majority of his colleagues supported the bill, he “would really worry if we could not accommodate within our ranks a plurality of views on an issue of this sort.”

Delegate Mr Leslie, however, told the conference: “For me we have one view in this party and that is equality for all. For any member of our party, or Parliamentary party, to openly come out against equal rights for people based on their sexuality, means they have discriminatory views.

“I don’t think we can escape that, no matter what the justification for it – whether it is belief in a sky being, or whatever else – being against equal rights for all based on their sexuality is discriminatory and is prejudiced, and I don’t think we can get away from it.”

Mr Carmichael responded that while there are “equality rights for people of different sexual orientation,” there are also people “who would say what they were doing was exercising their right to freedom of expression.”

He added: “And I can say I think their religious expression deserves a rather better respect than being referred as belief in something like a sky being.

“Sometimes, in Parliament in particular, you have to balance claims and as long as everyone does behave in a way that is respectful and which does take account of the plurality of views then they will get absolutely no quibble from me.”

The Scottish Parliament held its first evidence session on the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill this month.

The inquiry into the Bill is being undertaken by the Scottish Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee who will hear evidence from a wide range of stakeholders in the coming weeks, before making recommendations to the Scottish Parliament on whether to proceed with the Bill and, if so, in what form.

Last month, The Free Church of Scotland, who are opposed to equal marriage, called on the Scottish Government to include a conscience clause giving greater protections to celebrants who disagree with marrying same-sex couples.

Studies suggest however that a majority of Catholics in Scotland support equal marriage, including the respected Scottish Social Attitudes Survey (2010) which showed 54% of Scottish Catholics support same-sex marriage while only 25% oppose.