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The state shouldn't stop people marrying unless there is a good reason. Being gay is not one of them

In an exclusive column, the new Secretary of State declares support for gay marriage

Most people would agree that marriage is a good thing; choosing to spend the rest of your life with someone you love brings commitment and stability. What’s more, it helps bind society together and strengthens our communities.

When it comes to same-sex civil marriage there are strong views on both sides. Fully respecting those views is vital. That’s why we have been discussing our proposals with faith groups, LGB&T groups and others through a national consultation.

My view is simple; marriage is hugely important.  It makes us stronger. Vital family ties will be forged when two people choose to commit.

When it comes to civil marriage there are fundamental issues at stake because there is also a question of fairness and equality. The state should not stop two people undertaking civil marriage unless there are good reasons, and I believe being gay is not one of them.

You just have to look at the record number of 228,000 responses to our consultation to see that introducing same-sex marriage is an emotive issue. We need to respect deeply held beliefs by members of faith groups. I don’t believe we should seek to address the balance to one group at the detriment of another. So one thing I can do here and now is to reassure those faith groups who have expressed concern, no religious organisation will be forced to conduct marriages for same-sex couples as a result of our proposals. Nothing in our proposals will change what religious organisations are required to do or the existing rights that faith groups rightly have to refuse to marry couples.

However, when it comes to the state’s role in marriage, I and the government think a change is needed.   At the moment the state does not support same-sex couples in the same way that it supports a man and woman choosing to celebrate their commitment. 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.

I believe that marriage is an institution that benefits Britain and extending it will make sure it stays as important - and relevant - as ever. Love, fidelity, commitment and stability are something to celebrate. If someone choses to marry the person they love we should celebrate this, not stand in their way. It can only strengthen the communities in which we live and our country which has a proud history of freedom and fairness.