The International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell has said that a slim majority of over-65s, the group most opposed to the government’s plans to legalise gay civil marriages, are actually in favour of the move when it is properly explained.

Mr Mitchell voiced his personal support for the move in an interview with the New Statesman which briefly touched on marriage equality.

He added that older people, generally the most hostile to marriage equality in opinion polls, are less opposed to the move when it is explained to them that gay marriages will not be forced on their faiths.

He said: “I’m a supporter of gay marriage.

“If you look at the polling that’s been done, every cohort is in favour of gay marriage apart from the over-65s.”

But, he said: “If you explain to the over-65s that it’s civil marriage – not inflicting a view on the church – there is a narrow majority in favour.”

The interviewer reminded Mr Mitchell some people thought marriage equality had cost the Conservatives votes in the recent mid-term elections.

But Mr Mitchell attributed the party’s council losses, as most commentators did at the time, to the state of the economy and the natural political cycle, saying waiting for the mid-term backlash was like “pulling a brick on an elastic”.

The Church of England raised a question of antidisestablishmentarianism in its opposition to the government’s civil marriage plans last week, saying its canon law as the state church would be at odds with the state law on marriage if England and Wales were to allow gay couples access.

It said a ban on religious marriages for gay couples would conflict with every couple’s current right to marry in their local parish church.

Critics pointed out that the institution of marriage had been altered many times in the Church’s existence and argued that its canon laws should not prevent gay couples marrying in non-religious ceremonies in whatever system is adopted.

The Law Society has said a blanket ban on gay religious marriages is more likely to face a successful legal challenge in Strasbourg than a faith which chooses not to marry gay couples in the permissive system favoured by Labour and liberal religious denominations.

The government has said it does not propose to permit religious institutions to marry gay couples. Labour as well as some Conservative figures have said faiths who wish to should be allowed to perform gay ceremonies, and no public figures have suggested faiths should be forced to undertake them.

Nick Clegg reiterated in an Out4Marriage video this week that it was no longer a question of ‘if’ the plans for civil marriage rights would go ahead.