African National Congress Deputy Leader Jacob Zuma appears to be mending his fledgling relationship with the country’s gay community after backing same sex marriage.

Mr Zuma, who was criticised last month for calling the unions offensive to God, has now pledged his support for the law ahead of a vote in the South African Parliament.

In an interview with BBC World on Sunday, he said: “”With regard to the people who want to marry, I don’t think one can be judgmental.

“We have a constitution that guides us and we have to abide by it; no matter at times what other kinds of views people have.”

It comes as activists await the outcome of the South African Parliament’s vote on gay marriage. In a letter to the South African Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete-Kgositsile, Human Rights Watch’s Scott Long said the country should stand up for equality, he wrote, “Creating a special separate status for lesbian and gay couples sends a clear message that they are second-class citizens. It violates South Africa’s constitution, and it flouts international human rights.”

The high court of South Africa ruled last year that same-sex marriages should enjoy the same legal status as those between men and women, and has given the parliament until December to introduce legislation.

Mr Zuma said people have a right to express their opinions on the matter as long as it does not hurt others.

The politician, touted as a potential successor to current president Thabo Mbeki, recently apologised for offending the gay community and explained that his comments describing same sex marriage as “a disgrace” were misinterpreted.

He explained that his remarks were made in the context of the traditional way of raising children.

He had commented in particular about the manner in which communities tended to neglect boys and over-emphasise the traditional upbringing of girls, as evidenced in ceremonies such as the reed dance.