The Tory MP Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has become the first cabinet member to publicly declare his opposition to marriage equality.

His response comes after one of his constituents, Andrew Smith, he wrote: “Having considered this matter carefully, I am afraid I have come to the decision not to support gay marriage.”

“However,” the letter continues, “the government is rightly committed to advancing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and has already taken action to do so by allowing those religious premises that wish to carry out civil partnerships do so, erasing historic convictions for consensual gay sex and putting pressure on other countries that violate the human rights of LGBT people.”

He adds: “The prime minister has made clear that he supports equal civil marriage and the government is rightly consulting widely on this issue before making any changes to the current position. I am worried that this will be a disappointing response.”

Mr Smith told PoliticsHome, the website which first released the letter: ”It is bizarre that a cabinet minister can both praise his government’s progress on LGBT equality in the same letter that he tells me he won’t support my right to marriage equality. Logic eludes this man. He is clearly unsympathetic to the needs that LGBT youth in rural communities have for leaders who stand up for equality. I hope the constituents of North Shropshire prove to him how out of touch he is.”

Mr Paterson is the third Tory minister to oppose equal marriage, after Philip Hammond and Tim Loughton came out against the measure earlier this month, and after the defence minister, Gerald Howarth blamed the measure for the election losses suffered by Tories in the recent local elections.

A spokesperson for Downing Street confirmed to PinkNews.co.uk that the Prime Minister is still committed to introducing equal marriage before the next election.