The leader of the Conservatives has said his support for civil partnerships is proof the party backs gay rights.

In an interview in the March issue of Total Politics magazine which will be  published on Wednesday, David Cameron discussed a range of issues with journalist and Tory blogger Iain Dale, who entered into a civil partnership last year.

Mr Cameron referred to his speech at the annual meeting of party activists in 2006 when he gave his backing to gay and lesbian partrnerships.

“I stood up in front of a Conservative conference, my first one as leader, and said that marriage was important, and as far as I was concerned it didn’t matter whether it was between a man and a woman, a man and a man or a woman and a woman,” he said.

“No other Conservative leader has ever done that. I don’t think any Labour leader has done that. Even since then. The good thing was that they applauded.”

Mr Cameron said that he talked “a lot” about the need for civil partnerships with senior advisers.

“There was a real problem which needed to be overcome,” he told Total Politics.

“There was a series of ways in which gay people were being discriminated against because they couldn’t get married, so there was a strong, logical argument for civil partnerships.

“I think most Conservatives voted for it.

“The argument was getting stronger and stronger because the only other alternative was to try to deal with all these instances of discrimination – inheriting property, visiting rights etc – individually, and I think civil partnerships were the right way through it.

“If you believe in commitment, as I do, then the argument is even stronger.

“I totally agree that on some of these issues the Conservative party had some work to do.

“Individually, some of us had some work to do and we needed to do it.

“I am not saying it is done but big progress has been made.”

The Conservative party under his predecessors, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard, opposed the government’s gay equality legislation such as the abolition of Section 28, the equalisation of the age of consent and gay adoption.

Last month the Shadow Justice Secretary, Dominic Grieve, expressed support for an amendment that could weaken laws protecting lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

In May the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act created an offence of incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.

However, an amendment by Tory peer Lord Waddington, a former Home Secretary under Margaret Thatcher, was added to the legislation.

His amendment to the offence of using threatening language with intent to stir up hatred on grounds of sexual orientation said that urging someone to change their sexuality should not count “of itself” as threatening or as intended to stir up hatred.

The Coroners and Justice Bill, part of the government’s legislative programme for this session of Parliament, contains a clause removing the Waddington amendment.

Mr Cameron told Total Politics:

“This goes back to the ‘do you listen’ question because on the one hand you don’t want someone inciting hatred of gays but on the other hand you want to live in a society where people don’t feel their free speech is restricted.

“So there is a balance. We all rage against political correctness and there’s lots of political correctness which is ridiculous – silly health and safety worries that stop children grazing a knee on an outward bounds adventure. We have got to get rid of that.

“But there’s one bit of political correctness which is terribly important and that’s about politeness.

“I have a disabled son and I don’t want people to call him a spastic. You are a gay man, you don’t want someone to call you a poof.

“If you have a black friend, you don’t want someone to call them something offensive.

“It’s about manners and I think what we’ve got to do is frame this debate in a sense of what is good manners and politeness and what is common sense.”

Gay equality organisation Stonewall called the Waddington amendment “a bit of red meat for the Tory Right.”

Click here to visit the Total Politics website.