David Cameron has used his keynote speech to the Conservative party conference to affirm his support for civil partnerships.

Towards the end of his hour-long address to delegates, the Tory leader covered familiar ground, saying the party should back marriage.

He said that there was something special about marriage that is not about religion or morality, but also about “the two of us together, and that really matters.”

Mr Cameron then told the conference in Bournemouth, “And by the way, I think it matters, and I think it means something, whether you are a man or a woman, or a woman and a woman, or a man and another man. I am proud that we supported civil partnerships.”

The delegates responded with nearly 20 seconds of enthusiastic applause for Mr Cameron’s comments.

The comments came after a fringe meeting yesterday where gay Conservatives Margot James and Nick Herbert expressed surprise that Mr Cameron had previously voted against gay rights.

The Tory leader, attending his first autumn conference since beating David Davis for the leadership last December, also spoke to conference on Sunday afternoon.

On that occasion he attacked record companies that market violent and homophobic lyrics, branding them “morally wrong and socially unacceptable.”

Social responsibility was the main theme of Mr Cameron’s address today, in which he criticised the government over tackling the underlying causes of crime, and claimed the health service is his number one priority.