No new legislation is needed to protect gay people, David Cameron has insisted, in an interview discussing his voting record on gay rights.
The leader of the Conservatives apologised for his party's history of spearheading anti-gay legislation and went further than any previous Tory leader in laying out his belief in equal rights for all regardless of sexual preference.
But he repeatedly refused to describe statements by some of the Tories' virulently anti-gay allies in Europe as "homophobic" and suggested that instead of new laws to challenge homophobia there needed simply to be a "changing culture".
The Tory leader described how he had persuaded his party to embrace gay rights to The Independent's columnist Johann Hari, who has interviewed the three main party leaders for Attitude, Britain's leading gay magazine.
Taking a profoundly more liberal approach than his predecessors, Mr Cameron admitted the Tories made a "mistake" by trying to keep Section 28, the Thatcher-era law that made it illegal for any public body to "promote homosexuality" to children – eventually repealed in 2000.
He said that a Tory government would continue to support gay adoption, give asylum to anyone fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation and consider reversing the ban on gay men giving blood. But asked whether he would make any legal changes to advance equality if he becomes prime minister, Mr Cameron said: "I think it's much more about culture than about law now."
Under Mr Cameron the Tories have made a series of U-turns on gay rights which have helped shed the party's homophobic reputation. But their newfound advocacy of gay equality has been undermined by their leader's decision to ally with a new coalition of centre-right parties in Brussels, some led by eastern European politicians who have made profoundly homophobic statements. Michal Kaminski, the Polish leader of the coalition, has gone on record to describe gays as "faggots".
The Tory party leader insisted: "I don't believe they are homophobic. I would not partner with parties that have racist or homophobic views."
Mr Cameron apologised for his remark during the interview that the Muslim peer Sayeeda Warsi would "blow the hijab off" young Muslim girls and women who "have been told that public life wasn't for them". He said: "Sorry, I shouldn't say that, I'll get into trouble."