Jacqui Smith, who was deputy minister for women and equalities when she unveiled the proposals for civil partnerships eight years ago, has said the system should be amended, or even repealed, to make way for equal civil marriage.

Writing for Progress Online, she said that “being the Bill Minister for the Civil Partnerships Act is well up the list” of her proudest achievements in Parliament.

But she adds that although it left no “substantive” legal difference in the treatment of gay and straight unions, it “wasn’t gay marriage”.

She said: “It was an important and right step, but I now understand that in marriage and in ensuring equality, symbols can be as important as hard legal rights.”

The former deputy minister for women and equality continues: “The Government is right to propose that civil marriage should be available to all couples. Differentiating between the long term legal commitment of a gay couple as compared to a heterosexual couple does, at the margin, provide an ongoing discrimination.

“If there are young people made to feel second class at the thought of this, it should change. If there are thugs who feel more justified in laying into a gay man because of this difference, it should change. If there are families who want a marriage to celebrate rather than just a partnership, it should change.”

The government launched its public consultation on how best to implement equal marriage rights for gay couples last week. It will run until 14 June 2012.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper argued in PinkNews.co.uk last week that the government should allow religious denominations who wish to conduct gay weddings to do so, something it says it is not currently considering.

Ms Smith adds in her opinion piece that she is “a bit tired of the pontificating of churchmen” speaking out against the civil marriage proposals, but says she too is “sorry” willing religious bodies may not be able to conduct weddings.

“My marriage is not a sacrament. It’s a public and legal agreement which doesn’t need the approval (or otherwise) of the church for its significance.”

She adds that she would be “happy to see” the Civil Partnerships Act whose passage she oversaw amended or repealed if it meant equal civil marriage could be effected, though the government has no plans to abolish civil partnerships .