Peter Tatchell has criticised Culture Secretary and Minister for Equalities, Maria Miller, for ruling out civil partnerships for heterosexuals.

He said to PinkNews.co.uk: “This is a hugely disappointing decision by the government”.

Yesterday, Mrs Miller told the parliamentary joint committee on human rights: “We don’t feel there is either a necessity or a requirement to open up civil partnerships to heterosexual couples because there is no deficit there – there is no lack of an ability to be able to formalise a relationship in a legal way.

“It is already there for heterosexual couples. It’s called marriage.”

The Tory MP was asked about the position of people who might not share her enthusiasm for marriage, believing it to be oppressive to women and historically born out of a patriarchal system, and who would like the benefits of a civil partnership.

“I am not sure why marriage would oppress women any more than it would oppress men,” she replied, adding: “Having been married for 23 years, I don’t feel oppressed myself, but I can understand that people will have different views.”

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who has repeatedly called for the coalition’s equal marriage plans to include civil partnerships for heterosexuals told PinkNews.co.uk: “This is a hugely disappointing decision by the government. But I am hopeful that the amendment to open up civil partnerships to heterosexual couples will be carried by MPs next week.

“While legalising marriage equality is welcome and commendable, the government’s refusal to end discrimination against straight couples in civil partnership law is flawed and wrong.

“Despite proclaiming that the legalisation of same-sex civil marriage is driven by the principle of equality, the current bill enshrines inequality by banning heterosexual civil partnerships.

“This will mean that for the first time in British law gay couples will have legal privileges over heterosexual couples.”

He added: “Some straight men and women don’t like the patriarchal traditions of marriage. They’d prefer a civil partnership. Why shouldn’t they have that option?”

In February, Labour MP Chris Bryant criticised Mrs Miller for saying marriage is the “gold standard”, as she gave evidence in front of the Public Bill Committee of the House of Commons, which has been scrutinising the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.

Mr Bryant, who is also a shadow immigration minister, said: “That makes my civil partnership not feel like the gold standard. She may want to rethink the way she talks about it.”

Mrs Miller said she had not meant to cause offence and was simply stating that “everybody should have the opportunity to access what is an internationally recognised status.”

The House of Commons will debate the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill as part of its third reading next week.