A Green councillor faces being thrown out of her party because she said that her Christian beliefs prevented her from voting in favour of gay marriage.
Councillor Christina Summers was the only member of Brighton and Hove City Council to vote against a motion in favour of changing the law.
She was praised by political friends and foes during a debate on the issue but her colleagues have since voted to set up a disciplinary inquiry to consider taking action against her.
In the chamber the leader of the Green-run council Jason Kitcat said: “I respect every member’s right to freedom of expression. As a party we celebrate diversity.”
And mayor Bill Randall, also a Green, praised the sensitive tone of the debate and described it as the council at its best.
But since starting disciplinary proceedings, the Greens have been criticised for not showing the tolerance and respect for religious beliefs that they proudly proclaim as a party.
Another Green politician at the meeting failed to back the motion. The leader’s wife and fellow councillor Ania Kitcat left the chamber shortly before the vote.
However, Councillor Ania Kitcat, who is a Catholic, was named among the supporters of the motion on the agenda for the meeting – unlike Councillor Summers.
Councillor Summers told the meeting that her party deplored the ban on same sex marriage and was committed to repealing it.
She did not agree with her party on this issue, she said, adding: “My point of view will no doubt jar with many of you in this chamber.
“I don’t have a problem with same sex couples in civil partnerships.”
She said that she did have a problem with labelling a same sex partnership as a marriage, adding: “We are trying to unravel 800 years of legal history.”
And she said: “I’m worried about churches. I don’t believe they will be protected.”
Other councillors said that only churches that wished to conduct gay marriage ceremonies should do so.
Councillor Summers set out her position at the full council meeting at Brighton Town Hall on Thursday 19 July.
On Monday (23 July) she was not present at the weekly meeting of the Green group of councillors but her colleagues decided to take disciplinary action against her.
The decision was made even though Green council leader Jason Kitcat told the council meeting: “I respect every member’s right to freedom of expression in this chamber. We’re also all free to disagree. I respect the sensitive tone that’s been taken so far.
“As a party we celebrate diversity.”
Councillor Kitcat concluded: “As the Beatles said: ‘All you need is love.’ And if people love each other then we shouldn’t get in the way of people formalising that in a civil partnership or a marriage.”
Councillor Mary Mears told the council meeting that she understood and sympathised with Councillor Summers’s stance even though she disagreed with her, saying: “I truly respect Christina’s view.”
But she said: “I come to this from a different angle.”
The former Conservative council leader said: “It’s about the people and whether they’re in a loving relationship. I don’t like labelling people. If two people love each other, they love each other.”
Councillor Mears, who told the meeting “I come to this as a devout Christian”, supported the motion, which was put forward by Labour and amended sympathetically by the Greens.
But she defended the right of members to vote with their conscience and said: “Everybody has their own beliefs. They shouldn’t be decried. It’s important they should be express their beliefs openly.”
Another Conservative, Councillor Graham Cox said: “I was very moved by what Councillor Summers had to say and very much respect her bravery in speaking in the way she has.
“This is a matter of conscience.”
He said that churches, synagogues and mosques should be free to marry same sex couples if they wished. And if they don’t want to, he said, they shouldn’t be forced.
Green councillor Mike Jones brought a touch of humour to the debate after saying that he never thought at the age of 55 that he might be able to marry his partner.
Councillor Jones said: “I know this has been said before but lots of my heterosexual friends have said to me: ‘Why shouldn’t you be miserable too!’
“I say to those who object to same sex marriage, don’t marry someone of the same sex.”
The councillor who proposed the motion, Labour member Warren Morgan, said: “I totally respect Councillor Summers for her beliefs and respect the right of churches to opt out.”
After the Green group meeting on Monday, however, the group’s deputy convenor Councillor Phelim Mac Cafferty said: “Following the recent vote by Councillor Summers on equal marriage, Green councillors met on Monday evening and have requested that the party’s official inquiry process be initiated to ensure a fair, speedy and transparent outcome.
“It is for the inquiry panel to determine if any further action may be needed.”
Councillor Summers has been heavily criticised by one party colleague, Duncan Roy, on his blog. He said: “Summers is a fundamentalist.”
In one of series of blog postings attacking her, he wrote: “Since she has gone out of her way to act against our party’s policy, I’ve asked for her to expelled from the party to send a message to the wider world, which has become tired of politicians which don’t keep their promises.
“Without a party whip, we cannot remove the whip from her.
“She can be excluded from the group of Green councillors on Brighton and Hove City Council but the vast majority of our voters will just hear that we allowed someone to vote against equality … and to remain a member of our party.
“Consequently, we need to be very clear about the consequences of her actions. She is not welcome in our party.”
The Greens’ decision to start a disciplinary process and the party’s policies on equality and diversity have been the subject of discussion among Brighton and Hove’s thousands of Christians this week.
One of them, the Rev Stephen Terry, is a minister at the inclusive St Philip’s Church in New Church Road, Hove.
Although he does not agree with Councillor Summers “about whether Adam and Steve” should be able to marry, he said: “Not all Christians think alike on this issue or on practically any issue you care to mention, certainly not in the Church of England in which I am a minister.
“Christina Summers is perfectly entitled not only to hold the view that she has, but to express it.
“I’m frankly surprised that a party which proclaims the importance of individual personal freedoms should feel the need to discipline her for her deeply personal and profoundly held views.
“I think all Christians whatever their view on this particular subject would view with some surprise that Christina should be subject to an internal disciplinary procedure given that all she has done is to vote according to her conscience.”
He said: “There is nothing more illiberal than a liberal who disagrees with you.”
He added: “We liberals can be very intolerant.”