STRAIGHT couples should be able to enter into a civil partnership instead of getting married, equality campaigners have said.

SNP ministers are facing calls to embark on a u-turn after a string of organisations and individuals called for the extension of civil unions, with some claiming the current position amounts to discrimination against heterosexual people.

The Scottish Government has said that it is considering phasing out new civil partnerships altogether, following the legalisation of gay marriage, and is opposed to allowing the option universally.

Read more: Row as ministers refuse civil partnerships to straight couples

But while largely socially conservative religious organisations have backed the Government's stance, a consultation has found widespread support elsewhere for the extension of civil partnerships to all couples.

The Equality Network, which promotes LGBTI rights, said opening up of civil partnership to everybody was the only way to remove sexual orientation discrimination from the law without restricting important choices already available to same-sex couples.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission called for ministers to reconsider their opposition to universal civil partnerships, while feminist group Engender called for an end to "segregation within family law".

Its submission added: "We are disappointed that this consultation pre-emptively concludes that there are insufficient reasons for introducing mixed-sex civil partnership in Scotland.

"Indeed, reasons for retaining the current system appear to be lacking. It is vital that progress towards cultural equality for all women in Scotland is underpinned by legal equality. Differential treatment within our institutions on the basis of sexual orientation has no place in 21st century Scotland."

Read more: Row as ministers refuse civil partnerships to straight couples

LGBT Youth Scotland expressed disappointment with the position and said its own survey had found unanimous backing for extending civil partnership to mixed-sex couples.

The Scottish Government has previously said it does not believe there is demand for an extension to civil partnership, introduced in 2005 and offering the same legal rights as marriage, while it has also argued the move could prove costly. Demand among same-sex couples has fallen drastically since the legalisation of gay marriage in 2014.

However, dozens of individuals argued that the religious and historical connotations of marriage put many people off. One respondent told the Government: "Marriage is a loaded word, a loaded concept, in modern society and many people want to make a formal commitment, a legally binding commitment, without this weight."

Read more: Row as ministers refuse civil partnerships to straight couples

Stirling Council said that the Government's opposition was "premature and unjustified" as there is insufficient evidence to back up its claims. In the Netherlands, around 12.5 per cent of heterosexual couples opt for a civil partnership over marriage, while the Isle of Wight recently became the first part of the UK to allow straight couples to enter the legally recognised unions. in England, a heterosexual couple are taking their case to the Court of Appeal in a bid to win the right to have a civil partnership.

Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, backed calls for a rethink while Scottish Labour supported heterosexual civil partnerships in its manifesto. The party's leader, Kezia Dugdale, yesterday announced her engagement to her partner, Louise Riddell.

However, religious groups largely rejected calls for a liberalisation of the law in Scotland, fearing it would undermine the institution of marriage and arguing it was not necessary.

Read more: Row as ministers refuse civil partnerships to straight couples

CARE for Scotland, the Christian pressure group, said the Government's "rash" attempt to "redefine marriage" had thrown up inevitable anomalies, such as the civil partnership issue.

The group claimed the fact that civil partners do not have to exchange vows in ceremonies "calls into question the long-term commitment of those entering such relationships."

Its submission added: "It should be noted that the ultimate aim of those professing the ideology which lies behind the drive to redefine marriage is in fact to abolish marriage as a social norm. To extend civil partnerships to include heterosexual couples would advance further this ideological view, with its roots in Neo-Marxism, without establishing any substantial public demand for such a radical social experiment. The likely consequences both for children and for society in general will be adverse."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The Scottish Government is currently considering responses to the consultation and will make a decision on the future of civil partnerships in due course."