The Conservative cabinet minister who was handed responsibility for gay marriage legislation in the reshuffle dashed the hopes of religious groups and the Tory right that the Government is preparing to delay or shelve its proposals.
Writing about her views on the subject for the first time on the Independent Voices website, the Culture Secretary Maria Miller says she believes gay marriage must be legalised to preserve Britain's "proud history of freedom and fairness" and ensure that the institution remains relevant in the 21st century.
Giving the move her unequivocal backing, she insists that safeguards are in place to respect religious freedoms but adds that the state must not stand in the way of opening up civil marriage to all.
Her intervention will be a blow to large numbers of Conservative MPs and peers who vehemently oppose the change and hoped that her appointment in the reshuffle as Equalities Minister in place of the Liberal Democrat Lynne Featherstone was a signal that the Government was preparing to change its mind and delay the plan.
Before becoming a minister Ms Miller had a mixed voting record in the House of Commons on equalities legislation. She was absent from the vote on the Equality Act of 2007, and in 2008 voted against allowing same-sex couples access to fertility treatment.
Last night, one of the leading Conservative critics of the plan accused Ms Miller of "undermining" and "prejudging" the Government's consultation into the reforms, which is due to be published at the end of the year.
"I am surprised that the Government has decided to give any indication about the progress of the consultation and its thinking before it has had a chance to analyse the 228,000 responses it received," he said. "There is a huge swathe and depth of concern about this and ministers should not be undermining or prejudging their own consultation on a subject of such fundamental importance as redefining marriage."
But writing today Ms Miller said she fully supports changing the law. Legislation is likely to be introduced into Parliament next year at the time of the Queen's Speech. "When it comes to the state's role in marriage, I think a change is needed," she wrote.
"Many people in civil partnerships already refer to their partner as their 'husband' or 'wife', but they are not technically 'married' and do not have the option to become so. I see no reason to perpetuate this."
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the gay rights group Stonewall, welcomed Ms Miller's unambiguous support. "We are delighted that Maria has been persuaded that no one should have a monopoly on the use of the word marriage," he said.
"We quite understand the concerns of some of the faith groups so it is important that she has been able to reassure them that they will not be compelled in any way to allow same-sex marriage in religious premises."
However, a spokesman for the Coalition for Marriage said: "We are very disappointed to hear this. This legislation is anti-democratic as it is not what a majority of the public want and we would urge her to reconsider."Reuse content