Legendary stage actor Derek Jacobi said he views the debate over equal marriage rights for gay couples as a ‘squabble over nothing’.

Sir Derek entered into a civil partnership with Richard Clifford, then his partner of 27 years, in 2006.

But of marriage, the actor, 73, told the Telegraph: “The word doesn’t mean anything to me. It’s a squabble over nothing.”

Asked whether he considered his civil partnership a marriage, he said: “Richard and I have been together for 35 years. We’ve been in a civil partnership for five years. It doesn’t matter what you call it. We don’t think of it as marriage, it’s a partnership.

“People are getting hot under the collar at the moment because of this word.”

However, Sir Derek cast doubt on religious objections to marriage rights for gay couples on the basis that marriage should be about procreation between a husband and wife.

He said: “Well, I suppose their argument is that marriage is equated with having children, but what about couples who meet in their fifties? They can’t have children. Or what if you are biologically unable to have children? The word becomes meaningless.”

He agreed with interviewer Nigel Farndale’s suggestion that because civil partnerships and marriages afford almost identical legal rights, he might view the debate as a “fuss about nothing”.

He replied: “Exactly, it’s just this word. The Church is the problem.”

Sir Derek said he recalled seeing, as a teenager, the American evangelist Billy Graham speak in Haringey, north London.

Having been prepared to “give [himself] to Jesus”, he said when the evangelist stopped talking and the choir stopped singing: “I felt totally conned and embarrassed. I don’t mind people having faith and finding strength in that. But it ain’t for me.”