Despite Monday’s high-profile anti-equal marriage protest against the backdrop of the Conservative Party Conference, Prime Minister David Cameron remains determined to press ahead with marriage reform.

According to the Independent, Mr Cameron has told ministers to prioritise equal marriage legislation and the paper claims it could be on the statute book before the end of next year.

A senior Downing Street source is quoted as saying that the prime minister: “regards this as a straightforward matter of equality and believes that we should just get on with it.”

In a concession to his backbench critics, Mr Cameron has given Tory MPs a free vote on equal marriage – unlike Labour or the Lib Dems.

The No 10 source added that Conservative MPs “can vote how they want – it’s a free vote – but it won’t deflect us.”

Mr Cameron is said to have acknowledged that the issue of marriage equality has provoked anger among many Conservative Party activists as well as natural Tory voters, but believes their views should be confronted.

Over the weekend, a ComRes poll of 100 Conservative Party constituency chairmen showed 71% think the policy should be abandoned whilst 47% believe David Cameron’s support for the move has cost them members.

However, in August, Lord Ashcroft, one of the Conservative Party’s most influential and respected supporters and a former deputy chairman, said on the ConservativeHome website that dropping equal marriage could undermine the party’s chances of winning an outright parliamentary majority at the next general election.