New laws giving full marriage rights to gay couples could be introduced under reforms being considered by the Coalition.
According to the Daily Telegraph, a government source said that potential reforms to open up both marriage and civil partnerships to all couples were being discussed.
In a separate move, Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat Equalities Minister, is expected to announce plans in the New Year that civil partnership ceremonies will be allowed in churches and other religious settings for the first time.
The power is contained in the Equality Act but requires a further ruling from ministers before it can take effect. It will not force faiths to hold ceremonies for gay couples but is still likely to meet with heavy opposition from the Catholic Church and Church of England.
Under current rules, gay couples can register a civil partnership, but not a civil marriage. In addition, they cannot currently have a religious ceremony, although some faiths, such as Quakers and liberal Christian and Jewish groups want to hold civil partnerships.
Gay rights activist Peter Tatchell has been leading the campaign for full marriage equality and is to challenge the UK’s marriage laws at the European Court of Human Rights next year.
He has said that the current system leads to a situation of “sexual apartheid.”
Mr Tatchell told the Daily Telegraph: “The reforms [to allow religious civil partnerships] are welcome but they don’t go far enough.
“They do not tackle the two big issues – opening up civil partnerships to heterosexual couples and civil marriage to gay couples. That is what we are campaigning for. It is what the public supports.”
During the 2010 election campaign, the Conservatives were the only main party to suggest that they would consider allowing full marriage for same-sex couples.
According to the Daily Telegraph, a representative for the Government Equalities Office said the coalition had no “plans” to change marriage law but a Government source said potential reforms were “being discussed.”
The Equalities Office confirmed that ministers were considering changing the rules for civil partnerships. “Earlier this year ministers met with people and organisations holding a range of views on the issue and we are now looking at the best way to take those views forward,” the spokesperson said.