The Scottish government has not reached a decision today on whether to pursue marriage equality for gay couples, frustrating advocates of the move.

A decision was expected to be made and announced this afternoon after the meeting at First Minister Alex Salmond’s official residence, Bute House in Edinburgh.

The Scottish government has said it “tends towards the view” that gay couples should be allowed an equal right to marry to straight couples, a measure supported by the majority of MSPs, and that religious bodies should not be forced to hold wedding ceremonies against their beliefs.

The public consultation on marriage ended in December with 80,000 responses, which the government then began to consider.

Tom French, Policy Coordinator for the Equality Network, said: “It is time the Scottish Government demonstrated its leadership on this issue and announced a decision. Same-sex marriage is supported by the majority of Scots and the majority of MSPs.

“The Government have had seven months to analyse the consultation responses and to deal with the detail. We cannot understand why there is any need for further delay.

“The Government created huge expectation, not least amongst national and international press, and have failed to deliver today.

“It is unfair to keep dangling the prospect of equality in front of LGBT people, only to snatch it further away again. The Government should now set a date for announcing their decision, and stick to it.”

Grant Costello, Chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament said: “It’s very disappointing the Scottish Government has once again delayed the decision to publish the consultation results, and reveal their own plans for Equal Marriage. It’s time to halt the hold-ups, end the delays, and put a stop to the speculation. Scotland’s young people have made their view clear, they deserve an answer from Scotland’s Government.

“Let’s be clear, now is the time for Equal Marriage. A majority of MSPs are in favour. A majority of Scots, and an overwhelming majority of Scotland’s youth, support Equal Marriage. It’s time for the Scottish Government to stop the dither and delay, to listen to the clear message being sent by Scotland’s young people, and to make Equal Marriage a reality for Scotland.”

Scottish Liberal Democrats Willie Rennie MSP said: “For the SNP to dillydally for the third time risks their credibility on equality.

“Most people who support equality and fairness in marriage will find this bewildering.

“I would urge the First Minister to stand firm against powerful opponents, heal any divides in his own cabinet and take a lead on equality in marriage.”

Writing in PinkNews.co.uk today, Shadow Minister for the Scotland Office Willie Bain MP said strong political consensus meant Scotland was “likely” to become the twelfth nation and the first part of the UK to allow gay couples to marry.

A statement by the Scottish government earlier this month that the decision would be delayed until “next month” was retracted after it was discovered the statement had been written in June, not July, so the month it meant to refer to was in fact July, not August.

Update at 17.40: A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Cabinet today had the opportunity to discuss same sex marriage in great detail and consider all views represented in the consultation responses. This is an important issue and it is right that Cabinet takes the time to get both the principle and the detail of the decision right.

“During the discussion, recent calls for a referendum on the subject were carefully considered. However, Cabinet views this as an issue of conscience not constitution. Given that if a Bill is brought forward it should in the view of the Scottish Government be determined by a free vote, Cabinet has concluded that a referendum would not be appropriate.

“Cabinet has now asked a Cabinet sub-committee, led by the Deputy First Minister, to further examine some particular issues of detail before a final decision is reached.

“We remain committed to publishing the consultation responses and our clear decision on the way forward before the end of this month.”

The Equality Network welcomed the confirmation that there will be no public ballot on the issue.

Mr French added: “We welcome the announcement that same-sex marriage will not be the subject of a referendum – that would have been completely inappropriate. LGBT people across Scotland will be very disappointed tonight that no further announcement has been made. It is now vital to the Government’s credibility that a clear and positive decision is announced before the end of the month.”