The government has reaffirmed its commitment to civil marriage equality for gay couples this morning after the prime minister’s Easter reception speech at Downing Street was called ‘disingenuous’ and ‘hypocritical’.

The National Secular Society said a part of Mr Cameron’s speech which referred to what will happen if civil marriage equality for gay couples “doesn’t go ahead” prompted fears the government may give in to “bullying” by religious bodies.

At yesterday’s reception, Mr Cameron aimed to reassure Christian groups that there were no threats to religious beliefs in extending civil marriage to same-sex couples.

Among comments welcoming a “fightback” regarding the expression of religious faith, the prime minister urged restraint on both sides of the debate over marriage equality.

While reaffirming his own commitment to the move, he added that “inevitably there will at some stage be a vote and inevitably there’ll be some quite strong arguments” and but that the “strength of the language” should be kept at a “reasonable level”.

Mr Cameron told guests: “I hope we don’t all fall out too much over the issue of gay marriage. Let me just make this point. What the government is consulting over is a change to civil marriage, to what happens at the registry office. It’s not consulting over what happens in the church.”

He added: “The point I’d make is this: If this [civil marriage equality] does go ahead it will change what happens in a registry office; it will not change what happens in a church.

“If this doesn’t go ahead, to those of us who’d like it to go ahead, there will still be civil partnerships, so gay people will be able to form a partnership that gives them many of the advantages of marriage.”

Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society said “the disingenuousness and hypocrisy” of Mr Cameron’s speech, which also praised the saying of prayers at council meetings that the Society has opposed, “almost takes the breath away”.

He added: “Perhaps the most telling part of the speech is about his conflict with religion over gay marriage. He hopes that the religious leaders he is addressing will not be too harsh. And just in case they won’t let up in their relentless and unpleasant campaigning against gay rights, he throws out a hope to them that he might give in to their bullying.

“It is at this point that gay couples who had hoped to tie the knot can start to take down the bunting and cancel the wedding cake order.

“It is the first inkling that the promises he made to the gay community are very likely to be betrayed.”

A source confirmed to PinkNews.co.uk this morning that the government remains committed to the introduction of civil marriage equality and the current consultation on marriage equality remains a question of “how” to implement the change, not “if” the change should be implemented.

Writing in the Times last month at the launch of the consultation, the Home Secretary Theresa May made it clear the government would pursue marriage equality despite religious opposition and said: “I don’t believe that the State should stop people getting married unless there are very good reasons — and being gay isn’t one of them. If we believe that commitment, fidelity and marriage are good things then we should not restrict them, we should let them flourish.”

Members of the gay and transgender community are encouraged to fill in the consultation on how to introduce marriage equality online through the Home Office website between now and 14 June.