Tory leader David Cameron has defended his party’s European alliances with the Polish Law and Justice Party but has refused to call them homophobic, saying the Liberal Democrats also have anti-gay allies.

In an interview, he admitted that the alliance would make it harder for some people to vote Conservative but said he believed his party should be in the group which wants an “open, flexible, trading Europe”.

However, Cameron also said that the blood donation ban on gay men should be lifted and that the Church of England must change to recognise gay equality.

Although he said no new legislation was needed to protect gay people, he went further than any other Tory leader has in spelling out his support for equality.

Cameron has been repeatedly attacked by Labour for the European alliance, as a number of senior politicians in the Polish party have made virulently anti-gay statements.

Michal Kaminski was filmed in 2000 calling gay people “faggots”, while Stanislaw Pieta recently said that most paedophiles are gay.

Speaking to Johan Hari for Attitude magazine, Cameron said: “One of the reasons for doing this interview is hopefully to try and get across a sense that I have not joined with these people because of their views on social issues. I have not.

“There should be a centre-right group in Europe that wants [the European Union to be] an open, flexible, trading Europe, rather than the endless progress towards a more federalised Europe.”

He said he did not agree with the anti-gay statements, but added: “I’m not allied with parties that have views on homophobia or racism that I think are unacceptable.”

Under questioning from Hari, he refused to condemn the remarks as homophobic and argued that the Liberal Democrats have homophobic allies, although he added that European conservative parties still had “progress” to make.

Gay equality and religion have rarely been out of the news in recent weeks, following a House of Lords defeat on measures to force churches to employ gay staff.

Cameron said: “I don’t want to get into a huge row with the Archbishop here… but the Church [of England] has to do some of the things that the Conservative Party has been through – sorting this issue out and recognising that full equality is a bottom-line, full essential.”

He disagreed with the Labour government’s Home Office advice to gay refugees to be discreet about their sexuality in hostile countries.

Cameron said: “If you are fleeing persecution and that fear is well-founded, then you should be able to stay.

“As I understand it, the 1951 Convention [on the rights of refugees] doesn’t mention sexuality, but because it mentions membership of a social group, that phrase is being used by the courts, rightly, to say that if someone has a realistic fear of persecution they should be allowed to stay.”

The Tory leader also said he believed it was “logical and sensible” to lift the current lifetime ban on gay men donating blood.

Attitude magazine is out now.