Crawley's Tory MP Henry Smith insists he is not homophobic
THE town's MP has declared "I'm no homophobe" after a fierce backlash to his opposition to gay marriage.
Conservative Henry Smith says he is deeply offended at being labelled "anti-gay" by some campaigners supporting a change in the law.
Crawley's MP says that while he remains against the idea of redefining marriage to include civil partnerships his opposition is being blown out of proportion.
Mr Smith said: "I have been accused of being some sort of anti-gay rights activist and even homophobic on some websites, which I find deeply offensive.
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"This is an issue which I have not spoken out about in Parliament before and I do not have any particularly strong views on.
"There are much more important issues to be focussing on such as the economy and Europe."
The backlash came about after Mr Smith revealed he would not support gay marriage in the Commons because more than 300 people of different faiths had written to him to express their concerns.
In comparison, he had only received a few letters in favour of redefining marriage.
Since then a petition has been set up with the intention of showing Mr Smith there are at least an equal number of people in favour of the change.
The online petition has gained 333 signatures but Mr Smith insists this isn't enough to alter his thinking.
He said: "I don't come at this issue from any religious or moral angle. It is a civil liberty point of view.
"Civil partnerships convey the same rights as marriage. If same sex couples were less in law in terms of their rights then I would be the first to argue against that.
"People have compared this to apartheid ... this is not the same.
"They have the same rights and although it is only a small thing to redefine the term, it would cause so much concern among the religious community."
Jo Harrison, who set up the petition, says she is disappointed it has not prompted a rethink.
The 32-year-old, from West Street, Southgate, said: "It is a shame. The general consensus from recent opinion polls is that about 60 per cent of the population support gay marriage and most people just believe in equality.
"I'm surprised if he thinks that Crawley is so wildly different from other parts of the country.
"Henry has said that we need to value other people's opinions. So that means that people being discriminated against should value the opinion of those who are discriminating against them?
"That is a strange kind of logic."
Mr Smith pointed out that about a third of the signatures on the petition are from people who don't live in Crawley - and some are even from people in other countries.
However, Mrs Harrison believes this actually strengthens the petition.
"The issue is not just about Crawley," she said. "Although we are his constituents, he has a responsibility to the whole country.
"It is not about legalising gay marriage in Crawley, it is about legalising it for the whole country."