I well remember David Cameron’s first speech as party leader back in 2006. I remember the frisson that went round the conference hall when he said these words…

“There’s something special about marriage. It’s not about religion. It’s not about morality. It’s about commitment. When you stand up there, in front of your friends and your family, in front of the world, whether it’s in a church or anywhere else, what you’re doing really means something. Pledging yourself to another means doing something brave and important. You are making a commitment. You are publicly saying: it’s not just about “me, me, me” anymore. It is about we: together, the two of us, through thick and thin. That really matters. And by the way, it means something whether you’re a man and a woman, a woman and a woman or a man and another man.”

Well, five years on he has lived up to his words. In a few hours time he will announce that gay people will, for the first time, be able to enter a proper civil marriage. Not just a civil partnership. A marriage. The Home Office is about to launch a consultation on the best way to do this, but done it will be, and before the 2015 election. Now, I’d have thought that this would be welcomed by everyone of a liberal persuasion and who has supported the various moves under Labour towards equalisation of the law for gay people. But no. This was the response to the news on Twitter by Chris Bryant.

The Government is spinning it’s going to consult next March on full gay marriage. Why not just introduce a Bill now and Parliament can vote?

It’s a typically churlish response. He can’t bear the fact that a Conservative led coalition will introduce legislation his own government failed to do. This may be announced by LibDem Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone at the LibDem conference. At midnight the Home Office issued this statement…

A public consultation to consider how to make civil marriage available to same-sex couples will begin in March 2012, the government announced today. As part of its commitment to advancing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals the government announced in February this year its intention to look at how legislation could develop on equal civil marriage. Minister for Equalities Lynne Featherstone said:

“I am delighted to confirm that early next year, this government will begin a formal consultation on equal civil marriage for same-sex couples. This would allow us to make any legislative changes before the end of this Parliament. We will be working closely with all those who have an interest in the area to understand their views ahead of the formal consultation.”

The consultation will only cover civil marriage for same sex couples – not religious marriage.

NOTES TO EDITORS 1. Currently, civil marriages are only open to opposite sex couples and civil partnerships are only open to same sex couples. 2. The consultation will look at civil marriage of same sex couples but it will not include consultation on civil partnerships for opposite sex couples. 3. Earlier this year, the government announced that religious buildings will be allowed to host civil partnership registrations. The change, which will be entirely voluntary and will not force any religious group to host civil partnership registrations if they do not wish to do so, is being introduced as part of the Equality Act 2010. It will give same-sex couples, who are currently prevented from registering their civil partnership in a religious setting, the chance to do so. 4. The government will be laying the necessary regulations by the end of this year in order to allow the first civil partnership on religious premises to take place as soon as possible in the new year. This is a separate piece of work to the consultation being announced today.

I happen to know that this was going nowhere until the Prime Minister himself intervened. A source close to No10 told me last night:

“The Prime Minister personally intervened to give same-sex civil marriage his enthusiastic support, so that it would be introduced in this parliament. When David Cameron was elected Leader of the Conservative Party he spoke of the importance of commitment and how special marriage is, so this is entirely consistent.This move doesn’t down-grade civil partnerships, what it does is recognise there’s been a demand for equality”.

Note the bit in bold. This is not a consultation on WHETHER to introduce gay marriage, it’s a consultation on HOW to do it.

Remember also, that soon, gay couples will be able to have their civil partnerships if the churches are happy to perform the ceremonies. I suspect most won’t, but at least the law will allow them the option.

My own view is this. I have never been bothered that the traditional marriage ceremony hasn’t been available to gay couples. To me, a civil partnership is quite good enough. It’s a bespoke piece of legislation for gay couples. I have never bought into the idea, promulgated by Peter Tatchell, that straight people should be able to have civil partnerships and gay people necessarily need the same marriage facilities as straight people. As long as the legal consequences are similar all that is different is the name. But others feel that if there isn’t full equality between gay and straight people, then it’s just not fair, and frankly I am happy to go along with that.

The government has made clear that it will not legislate to allow straight people to have civil partnerships, and I quite see their point. Surely that is what registry office weddings are anyway?

I welcome this move and I hope most reasonable thinking people will do too. Let’s leave the last word to Clint Eastwood… > “I don’t give a [expletive] about who wants to get married to anybody else! Why not?! We’re making a big deal out of things we shouldn’t be making a deal out of … Just give everybody the chance to have the life they want.” Quite.