Equalities Minister Nicky Morgan has said that she does now support same-sex marriage, having previously opposed its introduction in Parliament. Ms Morgan, who is also the Education Secretary, said that she had learned "an awful lot" about the issue since taking on the equalities brief earlier this year.
Her appointment in David Cameron's last reshuffle in July led some to question her commitment to equality after she had previously voted against legislation introducing same-sex marriage. But she said that at the time she had been swayed by strong opposition among her Loughborough constituents as well as regarding it as an "issue of conscience".
"We're all as Members of Parliament, we're here to represent, to listen, to change minds," she told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. But I had a lot of constituents who asked me to vote in a particular way and I listened to them and it was an issue of conscience too. But I have certainly learned an awful lot doing this job."
Asked if she would vote differently now, Ms Morgan, who is launching a £2 million fund to help tackle homophobic bullying in schools, said: "I think I probably would." She added: "At the end of the day as a Member of Parliament I am obviously here to represent my constituents. I had a request of 10-to-one in favour of me to vote against it.
"I wish that people had come forward earlier to say that 'Actually, we'd like you to support it'. I suppose for some people it was, perhaps, obvious but I think it was something we needed to discuss and debate."
Ms Morgan defended her change of stance when she was heckled over her previous opposition to same-sex marriage at the Pink News awards ceremony. As she urged the audience to "judge me on my record", one critic repeatedly shouted "you voted against it" at the reception in Commons Speaker John Bercow's official residence within the Palace of Westminster.
"I did vote against it yes, absolutely," she hit back. "But if you are not going to recognise that people actually change their minds then what is the point of this place and this house of democracy and debate?" She told the audience: "It would be be fair to say that my appointment as equalities minister in July wasn't universally welcomed.
"I really do understand your concerns because the vote on equal marriage was, without doubt, the most difficult vote of my political career to date because I knew how much it meant to all people on all sides of the argument. I want to ask one thing of you, which is to judge me on my record as women's and equalities minister and to give me the opportunity to demonstrate that the LGBT community will not find a more passionate ally in the fight against discrimination."
She said she was "delighted" that so many same sex couples were choosing to enter into marriages and that ministers were "fully committed to making sure that the rest of the Bill is implemented by December 10 to allow thousands more couples to convert their civil partnerships to marriages".
Hailing the new funding, she said it was "intolerable that young people are being denied the opportunity to reach their full potential because of prejudice-based bullying". The Government was, she added, committed to "eradicating this blight on our schools".