Conservative home office minister Nick Herbert has hit back at defence secretary Philip Hammond's claim that plans to introduce gay marriage are not a priority.

In an interview with the Evening Standard, the police minister, who is gay, said he was fed up with being told gay people should be happy with civil partnerships.

“It has been suggested that this issue is not a priority. Of course, dealing with the economy and the deficit and restoring growth is the overriding mission and priority of this government. But since when was equality not a priority?" he said.

"Ensuring that people are treated equally without fear of discrimination should always be a priority. That’s why I think this proposal matters."

Hammond has said that the public wanted politicians to concentrate on “things that matter” and said gay marriage was “clearly” not the “number one priority.”

However Herbert, who is in a civil partnership, told the Evening Standard he was "getting rather fed up with people metaphorically jabbing a finger into my chest and saying I should put up with a civil partnership".

"How would they like it if I jabbed a finger into their chests and said they should put up with a civil partnership instead of their marriage?"

The government backed off from introducing a Bill for same-sex marriages in last month's Queen’s speech.

While Downing Street has indicated that Tory MPs, many of whom oppose the plans, will be free to vote against the measure if they wish.

Labour shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has said the coalition "must not backtrack" on gay marriage.

"Legislation on equal marriage doesn't prevent government prioritising jobs, growth or family finances - it is the Coalition economic policy which is preventing that," she said.

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  • Nick Clegg MP, Deputy Prime Minister

  • Boris Johnson, Mayor of London

  • Theresa May MP, Home Secretary

  • Yvette Cooper MP, Shadow Home Secretary

  • Andy Burnham MP, Shadow Health Secretary

  • Tim Montgomerie, Conservative Home

  • Jack Straw MP, Former cabinet minister

  • Crispin Blunt MP, Justice Minister

  • Caroline Lucas MP, Green Party

  • Kate Green MP, Shadow Minister for Equality

  • Stephen Twigg MP, Shadow Education Secretary

  • Lynne Featherstone MP, Equality Minister

  • Brian Paddick, London mayoral candidate

  • David Lammy MP

  • Nick Herbert MP

  • Julian Huppert MP

  • Baroness King, former London mayoral candidate

  • Bishop of Buckingham

  • The Dean of St Albans