British Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone has defended the British government's plan to hold a consultation on redefining marriage.
The British government has already expressed its support for a move to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples, however, the proposals have faced a public backlash.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, the Equalities Minister said marriage was not owned by the state or the church, but was instead "owned by the people."
"Some believe the government has no right to change it at all; they want to leave tradition alone," she wrote.
"I want to challenge that view – it is the government's fundamental job to reflect society and to shape the future, not stay silent where it has the power to act and change things for the better."
She insisted that the government was not "prioritizing gay rights, or trampling over tradition."
"We are allowing a space for the two to exist side by side," she said.
"I want to set the record straight once and for all: we are not changing religious marriage. We respect and value the vital role religion has to play in our society.
"We understand how strongly some religious groups feel about the issue, which is why we are listening and we want to work with them. But there is a range of other views we need to listen to as well."
Ms Featherstone went on to urge people "not to polarize" the debate.
"This is not a battle between gay rights and religious beliefs."
She continued: "Marriage is a right of passage for couples who want to show they are in a committed relationship, for people who want to show they have found love and wish to remain together until death do them part.
"Why should we deny it to people who happen to be gay or lesbian who wish to show that commitment and share it with their family, friends and everybody else?
"We should be proud of couples who love each other and a society that recognises their love as equal. That is why you will not find us watering down this commitment."
A petition launched on Monday opposing plans to change the definition of marriage has already attracted more than 40,000 signatures.
The petition was launched by the Coalition for Marriage, which defends the uniqueness of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and argues that retaining the current definition is not discriminatory as civil partnerships already grant homosexual couples all the legal benefits of marriage.
Signatories include the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, Labour MP Jim Dobbin, Lord Brennan QC, and the Bishops of Chester, Hereford, Exeter, Carlisle, Coventry, and Peterborough.
Lord Carey said that neither the government nor the church had the right to redefine marriage "in such a fundamental way."
"For thousands of years, the union of one man and one woman has been the bedrock of societies across cultures, all around the world," he said.
"Marriage is a cornerstone of our society. Because of this, I believe the general public will oppose the present attempt to fundamentally alter – and undermine – the institution."