British councillor who blamed floods on gay marriage suspended

LONDON (AFP) - The anti-immigration UK Independence Party (UKIP) on Sunday suspended a local councillor who blamed recent flooding across Britain on the government's decision to legalise gay marriage.

Mr David Silvester, a devout Christian who defected from Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative party in protest at last year's move to allow same-sex marriage, claimed Britain had been "beset by storms" in recent weeks because the new law had angered God.

"It is (Mr Cameron's) fault that large swathes of the nation have been afflicted by storms and floods," Mr Silvester, an elected member of the town council in Henley-on-Thames, west of London, wrote in a letter to his local newspaper.

UKIP initially supported Mr Silvester's right to express his opinions, but the anti-European Union party has now used emergency powers to suspend him.

"We cannot have any individual using the UKIP banner to promote their controversial personal beliefs which are not shared by the party," said Mr Roger Bird, the party's chairman in south-east England.

Mr Bird added that Mr Silvester had defied party orders not to give any more interviews, telling BBC radio on Sunday that homosexuality was a disease that could be "healed".

UKIP has struggled to shrug off a reputation for attracting extremists - Mr Cameron once derided them as a group of "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists".

But the Conservatives are increasingly nervous about the threat posed by the party, whose anti-EU and anti-immigration messages have steadily gained support in recent years.

Votes for UKIP cost the Conservatives hundreds of seats at local council elections last May and the smaller party is expected to do well in this May's European Parliament elections.

Mr Silvester's suspension came as UKIP leader Nigel Farage announced a purge of "extremist, nasty or barmy" views from the party ahead of the polls.

Mr Farage told the Sun on Sunday newspaper that five candidates for the upcoming elections were being forced not to stand because they could potentially embarrass the party.

A ComRes poll published on Sunday showed rising support for UKIP, with 19 percent backing them compared to 30 per cent for the Conservatives and 35 per cent for the opposition Labour party.

Civil partnerships for same-sex couples have been legal in Britain since 2005, giving them identical rights and responsibilities to straight couples in a civil marriage.

But campaigners had pointed to differences, not least their inability to call their partnership a "marriage".

Mr Cameron pushed through the gay marriage law last year despite fierce opposition within the Conservatives, and the first weddings are expected to take place in March.

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