Justine Greening, who is also Education Secretary, said major faiths should follow public opinion on the subject

Churches and other religious groups should “keep up” with public opinion on same-sex marriage, Britain’s Equalities Minister has said.

In an interview with Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, Justine Greening, who is also Education Secretary, described same-sex marriage as a “massive step forward for the better” and called for major faiths to “keep up with modern attitudes”.

“It is important that the church, in a way, keeps up and is part of a modern country,” she said.

“I wouldn’t prescribe to them how they should deal with that but I do think we’re living in a country where people broadly recognise that attitudes are in a different place now to where they were many, many years ago.

“We have allowed same-sex marriage, that’s a massive step forward for the better. And for me, I think people do want to see our major faiths keep up with modern attitudes.”

Her comments will be a cause of concern to faith leaders who are increasingly wary that the government’s “equalities” agenda may lead to a crackdown on religious freedom.

Earlier this year, Dame Louise Casey, a senior government advisor on integration, told a Commons select committee it is “not OK for Catholic schools to be homophobic and anti-gay marriage,” adding: “I have a problem with the expression of religious conservatism because I think often it can be anti-equalities.”

Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth warned that any restrictions on Catholic schools passing on the Church’s moral teachings would be worthy of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, adding that discussing sexual morality in modern Britain was like trying to argue with an alcoholic.

“After a while, they won’t argue with you on grounds of reason, they just become furious and respond that way. There is something in our culture increasingly like that.”

Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury added that Britain’s Christian heritage shaped the country’s values. “These values would be undermined if an ‘equalities agenda’ in schools became the vehicle for an increasing intolerance of Christian teaching,” the bishop said.

“Strangely, it is the historic teachings of Christianity and the Christian vision of marriage which might be in need of toleration,” he added.