THE Conservative Party's stance on gay marriage – backed publicly by local Tory MPs – has sparked an exodus among local party members.
Local Tory politicians have told the Advertiser a "significant number" of grassroots activists are not renewing memberships and resigning in defiance as part of a backlash over the issue, with more vetoes expected.
Croydon South MP Richard Ottaway, who last week voiced his support for marriage rights to be extended to same sex couples, confirmed that a number of resignations have been received.
Purley councillor Graham Bass, meanwhile, described the exodus as "significant".
And Greater London Assembly member for Croydon Steve O'Connell – the only prominent Tory borough politician left opposing the move – is expecting further departures.
Mr Bass, who collects party fees in Purley for Croydon Conservatives, said growing numbers are not renewing memberships and branded the gay marriage plans an "attack on democracy".
He said: "A significant number of people are resigning on account of it and a significant number are gritting their teeth.
"It is very prominent. You can't help noticing it among the membership. I would expect to see more people leaving.
"Personally, I'm not in favour of changing the meaning of marriage and what it has stood for over the centuries.
"The mention of a man and wife is different to claiming that that is an appropriate word for a homosexual couple, which it isn't.
"There is no need to change it and I think it would be damaging.
"It is an attack on democracy, not just for religious beliefs, but because homosexuals are in the minority and I don't think the democratic majority agree."
Mr Ottaway and Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell have both lent their support to gay marriage, which is expected to be made legal by the Government by 2015.
Earlier this month, Mr Ottaway declared marriage should "evolve as society evolves."
News of wavering Conservative support comes as activists from the Coalition for Marriage (C4M) paraded the streets of Croydon South – one of the coalition's "target" seats – calling for people to lobby their MP over the issue.
C4M campaigner Colin Hart said: "Although Richard Ottaway says he agrees with redefining marriage, many of his constituents disagree with him.
"These plans are unpopular and divisive. The voters were ignored by the politicians."
Mr O'Connell, who feels "uncomfortable" about the legalisation, said: "There are certainly people leaving the party because this is an issue which conflicts. I think it is very possible more people might leave over it.
"Some have left, some are searching their conscience, some are balancing it up and some will find it is incompatible.
"My position is clear. A: there are far more important things to do than to push this through, and B: I'm not comfortable myself because this tramples over the deeply-help convictions of a number of people.
"Many of the gay people I have spoken to are happy with civil partnerships."
Despite confirming that there had been resignations, Mr Ottaway insisted there was "good evidence we are attracting younger members".