Last night, PinkNews.co.uk reported that the government would introduce legislation to allow gay civil marriage before the end of this parliament.

Today, equalities minister Lynne Featherstone told the Liberal Democrat party conference that the current system of gay civil partnerships and straight marriage is “not only discrimination, but is not fair.”

PinkNews.co.uk understands that prime minister David Cameron is “emphatically” in favour of the change.

A Downing Street source said Mr Cameron had “personally intervened” to ensure that the consultation takes place and that the law is changed within the lifetime of this parliament.

Speaking earlier today, Mrs Featherstone said: “We are a world leader for gay rights, but as this conference made clear last year with your call for equal marriage, there is still more that we must do.

“That is why I am delighted to announce today that in March, this Government will begin a formal consultation on how to implement equal civil marriage for same sex couples.

“And this would allow us to make any legislative changes necessary by the end of this parliament.

“Civil partnerships were a welcome first step – but as our constitution states, this party rejects prejudice and discrimination in all its forms.

“And I believe that to deny one group of people the same opportunities offered to another is not only discrimination, but is not fair.

“Conference, this is a Liberal Democrat policy – but now it is a policy being put into action.”

Prior to last year’s general election, writing for PinkNews.co.uk, Mr Cameron said that he would consider introducing changes to legal definition of marriage to promote equality.

Asked by a PinkNews.co.uk reader if he’d support a move to full gay marriage, Mr Cameron wrote: “Asked if he’d support a move to full marriage, Mr Cameron wrote: “I am so glad that we now have civil partnerships. They have helped remove discrimination and have given gay people the rights that they deserve. I want to do everything I can to support commitment and I’m open to changing things further to guarantee equality.”

The deputy prime minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg first announced his support for gay marriage in a similar session with PinkNews.co.uk readers. He wrote: “I support gay marriage. Love is the same, straight or gay, so the civil institution should be the same, too. All couples should be able to make that commitment to one another.”

This statement was later cited in a Liberal Democrat party conference motion adopting gay marriage as an official party policy.