The Minister of State for Police and Criminal Justice Nick Herbert has said he is ‘forever grateful’ to those who voted for civil partnership legislation but ‘getting rather fed up’ with being told gay couples should be satisfied with the system.

In an interview with the Evening Standard, Nick Herbert, who entered a civil partnership in 2009, Mr Herbert praised the courage of the MPs who voted in the civil partnership system but said it was time for gay couples to be allowed to marry.

But he said he was “getting rather fed up with people metaphorically jabbing a finger into my chest and saying I should put up with a civil partnership”.

“How would they like it if I jabbed a finger into their chests and said they should put up with a civil partnership instead of their marriage? In my view it’s not acceptable to say to a group in society, ‘You should put up with something that is a second order institution to something that everybody else is entitled to, because we say so’.

“I think this is about nothing more or less than a fundamental issue of equality.”

In response to some Conservative figures suggesting now is not the time for the debate, Mr Herbert said: “It has been suggested that this issue is not a priority. Of course, dealing with the economy and the deficit and restoring growth is the overriding mission and priority of this government. But since when was equality not a priority?

“Ensuring that people are treated equally without fear of discrimination should always be a priority. That’s why I think this proposal matters.”

Mr Herbert also spoke of the importance of gay role models, which he realised after becoming an MP in 2005. He said it was “important that we have sports men who are openly gay — and we need more. It matters that there are people in public life who can be openly gay.”

The minister dismissed fears that Tory voters would abandon the party over marriage equality, highlighting Boris Johnson’s support for the move, voiced at Pride London in 2010, and his re-election as Mayor of London this month.

He said he had heard Prime Minister David Cameron speaking “publicly and privately” and said he was a “genuine supporter” of the move. Public polls showing support for the move made Mr Herbert “absolutely confident that the House of Commons will vote for this and that we will have gay marriage by the end of this Parliament.”