Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has told students in Surrey that allowing gay couples to marry would be like sanctioning incest.

The Conservative MP made the comments on Friday evening just hours after the government published its Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill during a visit to the University of London Royal Holloway’s Egham campus in Surrey.

Mr Hammond is the university’s local MP and had been invited to give a speech about British security and defence; however, his arrival was met with around 70 students chanting “gay, straight, black or white, marriage is a civil right.”

Last week, PinkNews.co.uk reported how the University of London Royal Holloway Students’ Union agreed to lobby Mr Hammond after he replied to a student’s letter stating that he would not be supporting the government’s equal marriage legislation.

Mr Hammond first went public about his opposition to the measure in May of last year when he said equal marriage was “too controversial”.

But on Friday, the senior cabinet minister, who had agreed to briefly meet with students Joe Rayment and Jack Saffery-Rowe used more contentious language.

Mr Rayment told PinkNews.co.uk that Mr Hammond said he was “very concerned” with the reform and that he believed gay couples would attempt to take religious groups to court if they refused to provide them with a marriage ceremony.

The MP then referred to human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell as someone who would attempt to sue religious organisations in such circumstances.

Mr Rayment challenged Mr Hammond on the fact that the Anglican Church to which he belongs had in the past altered its position on marriage, the MP responded: “yes, but that wasn’t yesterday”.

When the students asked why the MP believed the government should retain a ban on same-sex marriages, he responded by likening the current ban on equal marriage to incest, where it is illegal for two siblings to enter into wedlock.

Mr Hammond also said existing civil partnership legislation had removed discrimination.

When asked by PinkNews.co.uk to clarify the remarks concerning incest and why he mentioned the word, Mr Hammond personally emailed PinkNews.co.uk: “The discussion ranged very widely and was not limited to same sex relationships.”

MPs will vote on the second reading of the government’s Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill on 5 February – although Mr Hammond revealed to the students that he would not be in the country when it is expected to take place.

Earlier this month, PinkNews.co.uk exclusively reported how former defence secretary Liam Fox, Mr Hammond’s predecessor, warned that equal marriage had led to the “alienation of many loyal and, in many cases lifelong, supporters of the Conservative Party.”

Dr Fox also confirmed that he will vote against the government’s Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.