Gay rights campaigners have welcomed plans to allow religious civil partnerships and gay marriages.

Yesterday, the Sunday Times reported that Liberal Democrat equality minister Lynne Featherstone will announce a proposal to end the ban on same-sex marriage at the same time as the government announces the timetable for civil partnerships to be held in religious buildings.

The government will also look at giving straight couples the right to have civil partnerships, the article said.

PinkNews.co.uk understands that more detail about the plans will be released on Thursday and a Home Office source would not discredit the Sunday Times report.

Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill said: “We warmly welcome the long-awaited implementation of our amendment to permit those religious denominations who want to celebrate civil partnerships to do so.

“This is a very important step forward for many lesbian and gay people of faith and an important issue of religious freedom. It will, we believe, serve as a significant step forward towards extending the legal form of marriage to gay people.”

On the plans to give gay couples the right to marry, he added: “Although the detail of government proposals remains uncertain, we’re committed to extension of the legal form of marriage to gay people.

“Equalities minister Lynne Featherstone has said she will consult on proposals the government intends to implement in the lifetime of this parliament and we look forward to seeing a timetable for progress to be secured by 2015.”

Gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, who is taking legal action to challenge current marriage laws, said that plans to allow civil partnerships in church were “wonderful” but urged the government not to forget about gay civil marriage.

“I urge the government to bring forward legislation to ensure marriage equality,” he said.

“Gay civil partnerships are not good enough. They are not equality. In a democratic society, everyone should be equal before the law. All couples – gay and heterosexual – should be able to get married in a civil ceremony in a register office.”

Mr Tatchell also criticised the “long delay” in religious civil partnerships.

“Allowing religious civil partnerships is long overdue. It was agreed by parliament nearly a year ago,” he said.

“There is no excuse for the government’s long delay in putting it into effect.”

Civil partnerships were introduced in 2005 and offer gays and lesbian couples similar legal rights to straight married couples.

Differences include the grounds for dissolution, some insurance and pension rights and they are not recognised as having the same status as marriage abroad.

A consequence of the ban on gay marriage means that a married transgendered person must divorce their partner before being recognised in their new gender.

In addition, couples are barred from having any religious elements in the civil partnership ceremony.

An amendment the Equality Act by Labour peer Lord Waheed Alli was passed just prior to the election, but the new government delayed the implementation of the changes. Religious institutions are not forced to host ceremonies if they do not wish to.

A Times poll in June 2009 found that 61 per cent of the public wanted gay couples to have the right to marry.