A Tory politician has defended a "throwaway comment" published on his blog in which he said he believed homophobia did not exist.
Roger Helmer (Con, East Midlands), MEP for Northamptonshire, wrote in his online column that "'homophobia' is not so much a word as a political agenda" which "describes something which simply does not exist".
Speaking to the Chronicle & Echo Mr Helmer, a member of the right-wing Freedom Association, said he wanted to clarify his remarks and claimed the publicity was created to embarrass the Tories in Europe.
He said: "I was not claiming that there is no discrimination, and that homosexuals do not suffer violence and prejudice from people because sadly, we all know that is not the case.
"What I was saying was that the word homophobia has no meaning. I have never met anyone with an irrational fear of homosexuals, it is just a propagandist word created by the militant gay rights lobby."
In his blog, named Straight Talking, he said: "I regard myself as liberal and tolerant on the question of homosexuality. I have no interest in telling consenting adults what they may or may not do behind closed doors."
But he added: "It is frightening evidence of the way in which political correctness is threatening our freedom. It is creating 'thought crimes', where merely to hold a conventional opinion is seen, in itself, to be unacceptable and reprehensible. I'm sorry, but I don't buy it."
Paul Crofts, chairman of the Northamptonshire West Hate Incident Forum and equality advisor for the University of Northampton, said Mr Helmer's views would be deeply offensive to victims of homophobic crimes.
He said: "To many gay and lesbian people in this county, homophobia is real and it has very real consequences. We have dealt with incidents of violence against people which have been motivated purely by the fact they are homosexual. For Mr Helmer this may be a matter of semantics, but for gay and lesbian people this is a real issue. I would have thought someone like him, who is a member of the European Parliament and is in an influential position, would realise he has a responsibility to condemn homophobia."