All but one of the four Conservative MPs representing south west Hertfordshire have expressed support for the principle of gay marriage – as long as religious institutions can be safeguarded against having it forced on them.

Watford MP Richard Harrington, Hertsmere MP James Clappison and South West Hertfordshire MP David Gauke have said they are inclined to support a bill for same sex marriage when it arrives in Parliament next year.

However Hemel Hempstead MP Mike Penning, who represents Kings Langley, has said he will vote against gay marriage as he believes the institution should remain exclusively for heterosexual couples.

The MPs reveal their stances on the issue after Prime Minister David Cameron said he is “a massive supporter of marriage” last week.

The issue has thus far proved divisive for the Conservative party with one backbench MP branding Mr Cameron as “arrogant” for his stance.

A gay marriage bill is set to make its way into the House of Commons at some point next year and Mr Cameron has said he intends to give his MPs a free vote on the issue.

This week Mr Penning said he would be voting against any moves to extend marriage to same sex couples and added had had no correspondence from constituents in favour of the plan.

He said: “I am against it. I believe marriage is between a consenting male and female.

“I have no problem at all with civil marriages.

“I have got many friends in civil marriages and none of those have asked me for marriage.

“I have had literally no correspondence at all – not one letter – that is pro marriage for gay people.”

Watford’s MP Richard Harrington said he was broadly in favour of extending marriage to same sex couples but wanted to hear views from his constituents before casting his vote.

He said: “I have to say I have not considered in the past and I am trying to get as many people’s views on it as possible.

“My instincts are personally in favour as I think people should be allowed to do what they want as long as there are proper safeguards for religious institutions.

“We can’t have any gray areas.”

The other two MPs for south west Hertfordshire echoed Mr Harrington’s sentiments that religious institutions need cast-iron protection from having gay marriage imposed on them before they would support a bill.

Mr Clappison said: “I support it but we need to protect churches and faith communities that don’t want to enforce it. But as that seems to be forthcoming, I am minded to support it. The principle is fine by me.”

South West Hertfordshire MP, David Gauke added: “I am inclined to vote in favour of it. I think marriage is a really good institution and I don’t think gays should be excluded from it.

“But I want an agreement to make sure churches are not forced to do something they do not want.

“It should be up to the particular institutions to make their own call on what they want to do in this area.”