A senior member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats Union (CDU) party has ignited a storm of controversy after she said the country’s future “lies in the hands of families [and] not in same-sex partnerships.”

German news site The Local reports that Katherina Reiche told Bild that the rise of same-sex unions was “next to the euro crisis [as] the biggest threat to German prosperity.”

Ms Reiche, who is a member of the country’s parliament, added the party must “clearly state that it backs the idea of family, children and marriage, and that society is not held together by small groups but from a stable centre.”

Germany’s lawmakers are currently debating whether to legalise marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Earlier this month, several CDU MPs called for gay couples in civil unions to have the same tax breaks as married couples.

Ms Reiche’s outspoken comments have generated a vociferous response from LGBT Germans. More than 7,000 people have joined a protest Facebook group called No Future with Katherina Reiche.

The page links to an open letter, which expresses disappointment at the MP’s remarks, saying: “We expected more from you, because thanks to your illegitimate children you know that 21st century family does not automatically mean “husband + wife + children.

“Your statements are a slap in the face for all families that do not conform to your idea of normal.”

“Ms Reiche, you do not see a future for a Germany in which homosexuals have the same rights as heterosexuals and we do not see a future for you in 21st century German politics.”