A Democratic Unionist Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and junior government minister says he wants Northern Ireland to be “a tolerant and inclusive society” but claims there are “no grounds to redefine marriage”.

Democratic Unionist Party MLA Jonathan Bell made the comments during an equal marriage debate on BBC One Northern Ireland’s Stephen Nolan show on Wednesday.

He said: “Marriage is defined, and has been from 1866 in law since Hyde vs Hyde, as a union between a man and a woman” adding that “in terms of equality, in terms of human rights everything that is in marriage is available to a gay couple through civil society, there is no need to redefine marriage to have a tolerant and inclusive society.”

Asked by Nolan about the DUP’s opposition to civil partnerships when they were first introduced to Northern Ireland Mr Bell said: “The DUP spoke out in terms of civil partnerships at the time” going on to clarify the current position by saying that “the DUP stands by its position that it took at the time: we oppose civil partnerships”.

Mr Bell also made it clear that his party considers same-sex marriage a threat to society. He said: “look what happens in other countries where they have redefined marriage and changed the definition, you can no longer have a husband and a wife because they have to be defined as ‘parties to marriage’”.

Responding to these comments, John O’Doherty director of the Rainbow Project told the audience that the DUP have “actively opposed every move towards equality for LGBT people in the past” pointing out that they “opposed equality here in Northern Ireland and they opposed it in Westminster, they opposed protection in our jobs, they opposed legislation on goods facilities and services too”

A motion calling for same-sex couples to be given the right to marry in Northern Ireland was defeated in the Stormont Assembly in October 2012.