Same sex marriages look set to divide neighbouring Conservative MPs.

Braintree politician Brooks Newmark said he will be supporting the plans to legalise same-sex marriage but which do not force religious groups to offer it.

Witham MP Priti Patel has however described the debate last Tuesday as an unwelcome distraction.

The proposals have split the Conservative Party with more than 100 Tory MPs thought to be against the bill.

Under the proposals religious groups will be allowed to offer marriage to same-sex couples in a move seen as a step away from the secular civil partnerships currently available.

But the Church of England and the Church of Wales are explicitly banned from offering same-sex marriage, and no religious group can be forced to if it is against rulings by their governing body.

The new law, if passed, will also protect such groups from discrimination claims under the Equality Act.

Mr Newmark, who tweeted he will be voting yes, said: “I support civil gay marriage.

“However, I want to ensure that we respect those with deep religious values and convictions, which means ensuring that religious institutions such as churches, mosques and synagogues will not be compelled to carry out marriages which do not fit with their own religious beliefs.”

But Ms Patel said: “I believe the current arrangements for same-sex couples are working well and have not received much correspondence from constituents wishing to see them change.

“The definition of marriage is an extremely sensitive issue for many people who feel that this is an institution between a man and a woman and it is important that their views are respected.

“The biggest priorities for my constituents are the state of the economy and costs of living, which need the Government’s full focus right now.”

A bill is expected at the end of January and it is hoped the plans will have passed through Parliament by the summer.