The Government has announced that it is planning to launch a consultation with the aim of legalising gay marriage.
It's a very welcome announcement indeed.
The case for gay marriage is clear and it is great news that the Government seems to be ready to accept the case. Same sex marriage is already legal in Canada, the Netherlands, Spain, South Africa, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Portugal and a number of American states (including, most recently, New York). Despite the dire warnings of anti gay marriage activists, the sky hasn't fallen in in any of those countries and the family unit seems as strong as ever. Now is the right time for the UK to join that list.
The argument for gay marriage on pure equality lines is pretty clear cut. It is unjustifiable in modern Britain that a reasonable section of the population are denied the right to marry their partner. That is an inequality that needs to be put right.
But there's also a little noted argument for gay marriage on family values grounds. Although anti same-sex marriage campaigners have attempted to don the cloak of family values, it's about time that those of us who support gay marriage started to make the family values case for gay marriage. People are right to emphasise the importance of the institution of marriage. They are right to emphasise the importance of the family as a bedrock of society and a source of stability and guidance.
The issue that many same sex marriage opponents on the right (and some on the left) can't address is - if marriage and the family are so beneficial and are of such strong cultural importance, why are they determined to deny the benefits of them to LGBT people?
An argument that some use against same sex marriage is that civil partnerships represent marriage in all but name. It is true that civil partnerships represent a genuine social advance and Tony Blair should be highly praised for introducing the reforms. There is also a high level of support for civil partnerships. However, they aren't the same as marriage. Civil partnerships are important but they don't represent equality and, in terms of perception and some pension and other financial issues, they aren't equal to marriage.
Opponents who claim to speak for a "silent majority" of the public would also be well advised to look at public opinion polls on the matter. A recent survey showed that 77% of people support either gay marriage or civil partnerships (43% supported gay marriage, 34% civic unions). Another poll for Populus showed that 61% supported the statement that "gay couples should have an equal right to get married, not just civil partnerships."
The likes of Melanie Phillips and Roger Helmer will continue to make a lot of noise. But, thankfully, they are on the wrong side of history. We are rapidly moving towards a landscape of genuine equality - where any couple who love each other and want to make a lifestyle commitment to each other are allowed to marry. And our country will be a better place because of it.
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