Defence Secretary Philip Hammond says Downing Street should not focus its efforts on equal marriage.

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

Speaking on the BBC’s Question Time on Thursday evening, he said: “This change does redefine marriage. For millions and millions of people who are married, the meaning of marriage changes. There is a real sense of anger among many people who are married that any government thinks it has the ability to change the definition of an institution like marriage.”

The Conservative MP said the introduction of civil partnerships in 2005 had addressed inequality and that equal marriage legislation was proving to be upsetting for many.

“I have just never felt that this is what we should be focusing on … There was no huge demand for this and we didn’t need to spend a lot of parliamentary time and upset vast numbers of people in order to do this.”

Labour’s Chris Bryant tackled Mr Hammond over his voting record on gay rights, arguing it was insincere of him to act as if he supported civil partnerships.

“I’d accept your argument more if you’d ever voted for an equal age of consent, for gays to be allowed to adopt, for gays in the military to be able to peruse their career or for that matter if you had voted for civil partnerships,” he said.

“There have been 23 votes in the time you’ve been in parliament on these issues, on 12 of them you’ve not even bothered to turn up and on 11 you’ve voted against.”

Mr Hammond voted against equalising the age of consent for gay people and straight people, was absent for the vote repealing Section 28 and was absent for the vote introducing civil partnerships.

On Thursday evening PinkNews.co.uk revealed that the government intends to review the future of civil partnerships exactly five years from the point when the same-sex marriage bill comes into law.

The review has been tabled by the government as an amendment to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which will reach its report stage in the House of Commons next week.