Churches and other religious premises should be allowed to host gay weddings, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said.
Mr Clegg stressed that he did not want to force any religious group to marry same-sex couples, but said he saw no reason to stop churches from doing so if they chose to.
His comments go beyond the proposals to legalise civil marriages for homosexual men and lesbians, set out in a Government consultation paper which has sparked a furious reaction from some religious groups.
The proposals, backed by Prime Minister David Cameron, envisage same-sex civil marriage ceremonies in a register office or approved premises but no change to religious marriages, which can only take place between a man and a woman.
Under the proposed reforms, religious premises would continue to be allowed to host civil partnership registrations on a voluntary basis, but without any religious content.
Mr Clegg told the Evening Standard: "This is a personal view at the moment, but I think that in exactly the same way that we shouldn't force any church to conduct gay marriage, we shouldn't stop any church that wants to conduct gay marriage.
"I don't see why two individuals who love each other and want to show commitment to each other should not be able to do so in a way that is socially recognised as being marriage."
The Church of England wrote to Home Secretary Theresa May last month to warn that the legalisation of civil marriage for same-sex couples would "alter the intrinsic nature of marriage as the union of a man and a woman" and would result in legal challenges to force religious organisations to host gay weddings.
The Bishop of Leicester, the Right Reverend Tim Stevens, warned that gay weddings would "hollow out" the meaning of heterosexual marriage and could lead to the "gradual unravelling of the Church of England".
But Mr Clegg said: "I have a very strong sensation that once the dust settles everyone will look back and think, 'What on earth was the controversy about? It just seems a perfectly natural thing to do'.
"I don't think it is anything to get hot under the collar about, or aggressive or polemical."
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has hosted a meeting of religious groups which want the right to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies, including Quakers, the Unitarian Church and some Jewish groups.
Ms Cooper has said there are "serious contradictions" in the Government's position.
Paul Parker, the most senior figure in the Quakers, said: "We really do not acknowledge there is a distinction between two types of couples.
"We want everyone to have the same experience, both legally and on the day.
"We are calling for the law to catch up, really, with something we already recognise."
Benjamin Cohen of the Out4Marriage campaign said: "We welcome the decision by Nick Clegg to support religious same-sex marriage because without allowing this permissive change in the law, all the Government would really be doing is changing the name of civil partnerships to civil marriages.
"Religious same-sex marriage is important.
"There are many couples who are religious and there are many religious ministers who believe in equality.
"True equality means allowing same-sex couples to marry within religious institutions that wish to do so while maintaining the right for religious institutions to refuse.
"No religious institution should be forced to conduct same-sex marriages but those that wish to should be allowed to because religious freedom is important too.
"Out4Marriage is glad that the continued pressure that we are putting on the Government over religious same-sex marriage is being listened to.
"It would be a crying shame if the Government banned same-sex couples to marry with equal rights to straight couples while trying to make the civil marriage system more equal."
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies