The Labour Party has welcomed government announcements on gay marriage and civil partnerships.

Party leader Ed Miliband said he hoped progress could made as soon as possible.

He said: “The introduction of civil partnerships was one of the most significant changes introduced by Labour. Those equalities now have overwhelming public support and are being copied by many countries around the world.

“Today’s announcement is an important step towards implementing Labour’s Equality Act and allowing people to choose to a faith based service.

“Five years on from the first civil partnership it is right that we look at extending marriage equality for those people who want it. I welcome the announcement and hope that progress can be made on this important issue as soon as possible.”

In August, Mr Miliband called for gay marriage in an article for PinkNews.co.uk. He wrote: “‘Separate but equal’ is not good enough and PinkNews.co.uk’s own recent poll demonstrated the huge support in the LGBT community for a right to marry. I want to see heterosexual and same-sex partnerships put on an equal basis and a Labour Party that I lead will campaign to make gay marriage happen.”

Today, shadow equality minister Fiona Mactaggart said: “Allowing civil partnership ceremonies to take place in religious buildings was part of Labour’s Equalities Act, so it’s welcome to see the government pressing ahead with this.

“This is a necessary next step towards equality between civil partnerships and marriage and we will make sure that the government doesn’t just consult but delivers too.”

James Asser of LGBT Labour, said: “LGBT Labour fully supports for full marriage equality between heterosexual and same-sex couples and welcomes the government’s announcement today that it will consult on ‘next steps’ towards gay marriage. We also welcome the fact that the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, has again confirmed his support for marriage equality.

“Our concern would be that the consultation that has been announced today does not have much detail and the minister, Lynne Featherstone, was unable to confirm that these plans would come in before the next election.

“The last thing the LGBT community want is a consultation to be used to push the issue into the long grass. We are keen to contribute to any consultation and we will be urging government to make tangible progress on marriage equality as soon as possible.”

Ministers announced today that a consultation will be held on the “next steps” for recognition of gay couples.

They also said that religious groups will be given the right to host civil partnerships, if they wish.

PinkNews.co.uk understands that the government’s preferred option is to eventually open civil marriage and civil partnerships to all couples, whether straight or gay.