14/06/2012 12:38 BST | Updated 14/08/2012 06:12 BST

I'm Sorry, Dr Fox - Gay Marriage Isn't Just a "Metropolitan Elite" Issue

According to opponents of gay marriage, it is a measure that only attracts support amongst the "metropolitan elite" - according to their analysis once you step outside of Hampstead or Soho , support for equal marriage simply withers away.

Former Defence Secretary, Dr Liam Fox was the latest political figure to use this argument, suggested that the Government's proposals for gay marriage represented "social engineering" on the part of a "metropolitan elite." David Davis used similar language a few weeks ago, when he suggested that equal marriage is a policy for the "London centric political class."

Nadine Dorries went even further, when she said that:

"Gay marriage is a policy which has been pursued by the metro elite gay activists and needs to be put into the same bin... The policy is divisive, unpopular with the public, is tearing the Conservative Party apart and will influence absolutely no one in terms of the way they vote in the future."

The "metropolitan elite" line can be a pretty compelling one. The only trouble is that, in the case of gay marriage, it simply isn't true.

Populus have found that support for equal marriage is actually higher in the North East (where it stands at 81%), Yorkshire and the West Midlands than it is in London. Despite the rhetoric about the "metro elite", the most blue collar parts of the country are actually the most supportive of gay marriage. Equally, the skilled working class are as in favour of the reform as the so-called metropolitan classes.

What about the argument that gay marriage is unpopular with the public? The same poll showed that 65% of people supported equal marriage, which is up from 62% a few years ago.

The next election will not be decided by this issue. In the grand scheme of things, the big issues for the next election are the cost of living, unemployment and growth. Those are indeed the big bread and butter issues that politicians should spend most of their time talking about. But that doesn't mean that they shouldn't do the right thing when it comes to giving gay people the right to marry.

But equal treatment is something that matters a lot to one particular group of people. All they would like is to be treated the same way as everyone else. At root, the issue here is whether we accept that homosexuality is normal, or not. For all the rhetoric about "metro elite gay activists", what you basically have here is a large chunk of normal, everyday people, who don't want to be treated as different or second class, just because of who they happen to love.

Gay people want to join the institution of marriage because of the respect they have for the institution, not because they want to change or 'redefine' it. This is a tribute to marriage, rather than a threat to it.

It's a transparently false dichotomy to suggest that focusing on the cost of living and creating jobs means that proposals for equal marriage should be shelved. The truth is that equal marriage would require tiny Legislative changes and minimal parliamentary time to do this. The idea that it would require weeks of extended parliamentary sittings is a nonsense.

I believe equal marriage should be introduced because it is the right thing to do. It is right to enable gay marriage for the same reasons that it is right to encourage marriage for the rest of the population.

There are few more conservative institutions than marriage, and the Prime Minister was right that there is a conservative case for it. Marriage encourages commitment and fidelity - it's been shown to be beneficial to individuals and society.

And what would happen if the Government shelved equal marriage because of right wing dissent. It would turn it from an issue that doesn't really register for ordinary voters (although they believe it is the right thing to do) into an opportunity for its enemies to say that the Tory Party hasn't really changed. Given that the Prime Minister has invested such personal capital in it, he isn't just going to roll over.

The issue of gay marriage isn't going to win or lose the next election. But it is the right thing to do. It is certainly not unpopular, indeed it is popular throughout the country, especially in places not particularly associated with the "metropolitan elite".