A UKIP MEP has praised same-sex marriage – and called for the party to move on from opposition to it.

Bill Etheridge, an MEP for the West Midlands region for the UK Independence Party, made the comments after a local UKIP branch passed a resolution on equal marriage.

The local UKIP group in the West Midlands region had unanimously passed a motion on the issue at an Annual General Meeting – despite ongoing opposition from the party’s more conservative elements.

The motion affirmed “the right of the individual to enter into the union of marriage or civil partnership whether between a man and a woman or same sex couple” – as well as calling for the party to “supporting the right of the individual not to be discriminated against regardless of race, age, disability, gender or re-assigned gender, sexual orientation, pregnancy or religion.”

The affirmation flies in the face of UKIP’s previous manifesto, which proposed a new ‘conscience’ clause that would give Christians exemptions from anti-discrimination laws.

In a statement to PinkNews, Mr Etheridge praised the decision.

He said: “It is absolutely my belief that same sex marriage and the right of opposite sex couples to enter a civil partnership is a good thing.

“UKIP is evolving, as it should, into a huge force in British politics and I am hopeful that the national party will follow the lead of The West Midlands and adopt a similar resolution.”

He added: “This motion, and the fact that it was backed unanimously, should blast away any misconceptions about UKIP. I have always stated that I am proud to be in a diverse party that stands up for Britain’s population.

“There is no place for intolerance in society and I congratulate UKIP West Midlands for its lead and vision.”

Earlier this month, leaked documents revealed that the UKIP leadership “knowingly” let homophobes, racists and convicted criminals stand for election in 2015.

The party allowed 14 candidates who were flagged for violent pasts run for election last May, including some who were found guilty of assaults.

According to the internal vetting records leaked to the Times, a further 23 candidates had been identified as expressing or supporting racist, homophobic, Islamophobic or sexist views .

The documents also appear to suggest the party was fully aware of Parliamentary candidate Alan Craig’s advocacy for ‘gay cure’ therapy, before PinkNews first raised the issue last year.

A number of candidates who went ahead appeared to have shared posts on social media advocating far-right groups such as Britain First and the English Defence League – which UKIP officially claims to have banned.

In total, more than 200 candidates across all elections were blocked by vetting head David Soutter – of whom 115 successfully appealed.

A UKIP spokesperson said: “Our candidates team looked at thousands of candidates last year and generally associations such as this would raise a red flag. Discretion was held by the then head of candidates, Mr Soutter.”

Mr Soutter claimed previously: “One of the things that UKIP has lacked as a party — and looking at it the way I’ve been able to from the outside — discipline is one of the things that’s really been missing.

“Half my job is spent not finding good candidates to stand, it is weeding out the lunatics, the people who shouldn’t be there.”

The UK Independence Party also recently selected former ‘Christian Peoples Alliance’ leader Alan Craig to run for a seat on the London Assembly – despite his long homophobic record comparing gay equality advocates to the invading forces of Nazi Germany, claiming that same-sex adoption is ‘child trafficking’, and advocating ‘gay cure’ therapy.

However, a UKIP spokesperson later told PinkNews that Mr Craig’s candidacy was “on hold” due to a routine “vetting” procedure, after pressure from party official Suzanne Evans, who was then the party’s Deputy Chair. She has since been dismissed from her position, and it is unclear whether Mr Craig is still a candidate,

A petition set up by party members in favour of Mr Craig read: “We believe UKIP is a party which stands against insidious Political Correctness and champions conscience and free-speech. We wish for the NEC to uphold these values and ask them not to remove Alan Craig as a candidate.”

One UKIP member wrote wrote: “We want our nation back and taken out of the hands of homosexual narcissists who presently dominate government, the legal system and the mass media.”

“The gaystapo have vowed and declared many times to destroy marriage, the family and to use children as so many goods to satisfy their wants.”

A second said: “The reason why British people are afraid to speak out is because government sponsored political correctness is stifling free speech in a way that is reminiscent of Germany in the 1930s.

“In essence political correctness is a sinister process of conditioning people’s minds using a combination of fear and ideological propaganda.

“We have now reached the point in this country where you can actually lose your liberty or job just for speaking your mind. Stalinism is alive an well in the UK in 2016.”