Gay Conservative MP and policing minister Nick Herbert spoke to PinkNews.co.uk today at London Pride.

After marching at the front of the parade with London mayor Boris Johnson, gay activist Peter Tatchell and members of the Gay Liberation Front, Mr Herbert addressed thousands of revellers on stage at Trafalgar Square.

He told PinkNews.co.uk: “It’s brilliant to see so many people here having such a good time, at this fantastic celebration of gay pride. I am really pleased to be here, as a Conservative MP and a minister for the government, along with the Lib Dems too.

When asked whether he was surprised at Mr Johnson’s support for gay marriage, he said: “As far as I’m concerned, if it’s a civil partnership, I regard it as marriage. It has all the same legal status of a marriage. David Cameron has said that he thinks gay marriage is something we should look at in time… it’s a question of the words – should we call a civil partnership a marriage?

“But we’re already saying we’ll look at allowing civil partnerships to have some religious element to them and we’re also allowing churches that allow civil partnerships to do so as part of the law change. So you’re seeing that the debate is moving, but I think for a lot of us, we regard civil partnerships as marriages.”

Mr Herbert added that he was taking a “close interest” as policing minister in the issue of homophobic hate crime and said the coalition had an “ambitious” plan to promote LGBT equality.

He added: “There’s still a huge agenda to move forward. David Cameron held a reception for Pride at Number 10 and he was there, standing shoulder to shoulder with Nick Clegg, and we’ve got this joint coalition programme for this big agenda to promote equality.

“I just think it’s such an encouraging thing and it just shows how fast and far this debate has moved across all three political parties.”

PinkNews.co.uk also asked him how he felt the greater presence of gay faith groups at Pride this year linked in to news that religious civil partnerships could soon be legal.

He said: “I appreciate that some people of faith take a different view, but I’m a great believer in respecting conscience and where church groups, for instance, want to allow civil partnerships on their premises, well I think that should be their decision to do so.

“I think we need to be respectful of religious freedom of conscience, just as I think we must ensure we protect equality.”