Will we be waking up on Friday to UKIP’s first elected MP?

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Voters are going to the polls to elect new MPs in the Clacton and Heywood and Middleton by-elections – previously occupied by anti-gay marriage MPs Douglas Carswell and Jim Dobbin.

The by-election in Clacton was triggered last month by the defection of Douglas Carswell from the Tories to UKIP.

Mr Carswell voted against same-sex marriage last year, describing the law as “arrogant”.

He wrote: “Although I believe in equal treatment for gay people and believe that all people should be able to live under the same laws, I am opposed to the government’s proposals. I think there is something a little bit arrogant about ministers supposing that it is for them to redefine communal rules that have existed for centuries.”

In 2007, Mr Carswell also voted against protections for sexual orientation in the provision of goods and services, under the Equality Act.

Earlier this week, UKIP defended former Christian Peoples Alliance leader Alan Craig, who is notorious for his extreme anti-gay views.

Mr Craig announced that he had applied to join UKIP and was supporting Douglas Carswell’s bid to become UKIP’s first elected MP.

Mr Craig, an ex-councillor for the London Borough of Newham, was nominated for Stonewall’s ‘Bigot of the Year’ award in 2012.

The year before he caused outrage by comparing gay equality advocates to the invading forces of Nazi Germany, dubbing them the “Gaystapo”.

On Tuesday, a UKIP spokesman described the term as an “ugly phrase” – but added that the party would not “discriminate against hard core Christians”.

The spokesman also said the party was unaware of Mr Craig’s application but that it would be dealt with accordingly.

The by-election in the Greater Manchester seat of Heywood and Middleton was caused by last month’s death of Labour MP Jim Dobbin.

Mr Dobbin, who entered Parliament in 1997, was one of 14 Labour MPs to vote against same-sex marriage last year.

During his time as an MP he also voted against or abstained on civil partnerships, the Equality Act, the repeal of Section 28, and adoption rights for same-sex couples.

He said of same-sex marriage last year: “I think MPs who voted for this change will rue the day they did so.

“It is going to have far-reaching ramifications right across British society.

“For example, what sort of effect will this have on generations of children who will now have to be taught that men can marry men as well as women at a young age?

“A lot of MPs who voted for this did so on a mistaken idea of equality. I am all in favour of equality, but this bill mistook uniformity to mean equality.”

In Clacton the candidates, in alphabetical order, are:

Carswell, Douglas – UK Independence Party

Graham, Andy – Liberal Democrats

Hope, Howling Laud – The Official Monster Raving Loony Party

Rose, Charlotte – Independent

Sizer, Bruce Francis – Independent

Southall, Chris – Green Party

Watling, Giles – Conservative

Young, Tim – Labour

In Heywood and Middleton the candidates, in alphabetical order, are:

Bickley, John – UK Independence Party

Gartside, Iain – Conservative

Jackson, Abi – Green Party

McInnes, Liz – Labour

Smith, Anthony – Liberal Democrats