Following discussions with the prime minister at a Downing Street reception yesterday, the group Out4Marriage said David Cameron had given the strong impression that he personally supports giving churches and other religious institutions the right to hold gay wedding ceremonies if they chose to do so in England and Wales.

The Scottish government announced this morning it intends to bring forward legislation which would allow gay couples to marry on religious premises as long as the faith and celebrant do not object.

Members of Out4Marriage who discussed equal marriage rights with the Prime Minister said Mr Cameron was adamant that churches should be protected from being compelled to conduct gay wedding ceremonies, but he was keen for debate in the Church as he recognised different opinions, with some vicars happy to celebrate gay weddings.

The group says that the Prime Minister left the clear impression that he would be content in supporting churches and other religious instituions which choose to solemnise gay marriages, as long as the required protections were in place for those that did not. But he said that a debate on the issue still needed to take place.

Mr Cameron’s Downing Street reception was notable for the large number of Anglican clergy in attendance.

Earlier this month, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said that he personally supported same-sex marriages taking place in Church. Mr Clegg said: “This is a personal view at the moment, but I think that in exactly the same way that we shouldn’t force any church to conduct gay marriage, we shouldn’t stop any church that wants to conduct gay marriage.”

PinkNews.co.uk understands that many members of the coalition government are evolving their thinking on same-sex marriage with most backing a piece of permissive legislation that would give churches and others the right to hold same-sex marriages while giving them the right to refuse to hold them if they choose.

The Labour Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has written for PinkNews.co.uk in support of this view.

In its submission to the Home Office equal marriage consultation, Out4Marriage said that banning same-sex religious marriage would leave the Government “open to long, costly and unnecessary legal challenges on the grounds that it restricts free religious expression; it manifestly fails to deal with the nuance of the issue, and is an infringement on both LGBT, religious, human and civil rights.”

Joseph Musgrave of Out4Marriage told PinkNews.co.uk: “The debate within religious organisations over solemnising same-sex marriages is fast taking centre stage and we are encouraged by the Prime Ministers’ comments yesterday. Provided the protections are in place for those who do not wish to solemnise these marriages, there is increasing support for same-sex marriage going beyond purely civil marriage.

“We are hopeful that the responses to the Government’s consultation reflect this and will, with the support of open-minded people like the Prime Minister, make religious equal marriage a reality.”

Addressing members of the LGBT community in his speech yesterday, Mr Cameron said: “I run an institution – the Conservative Party – which for many, many years got itself on the wrong side of this argument, it locked people out who were naturally Conservative from supporting it and so I think I can make that point to the Church, gently.”