In a speech yesterday, Britain’s most senior female judge, called for the gay couples to be allowed to marry.

Lady Hale, the country’s first female law lord said that the Civil Partnership Act allows gay couples “a status which is marriage in almost all but name”.

“If people want both the privileges and the responsibilities of marriage, I do not see why we should deny it to them.”

The Civil Partnership Act, which comes into force this December will allow gay couples to register their relationship in a civil ceremony and receive the vast majority of the rights that straight married couples receive. However, unlike a wedding, churches and other places of worship can refuse to allow their members to hold a ceremony on their property.

Lady Hale who was delivering the F A Mann lecture at the law firm Herbet Smith said that, forbidding gay marriage “would have made sense in the days when marriage was there to protect the purity of the male line, but that is not what it is all about these days. Couples of any sexual orientation can all aspire to the commitment and inter-dependence involved in marriage.”