Labour MEP and co-founder of Stonewall, Michael Cashman argues that the charity he helped launch 21 years ago must come out in favour of full gay marriage equality now.

I’m disappointed to see Stonewall, the organisation I co-founded 21 years ago, fail to support genuine equality for same-sex couples. We must open up marriage to everyone, and we must do it now.

We’re witnessing a major shift in public and political opinion: the Labour Party Conference is currently considering a motion—which I support—to open up marriage to all couples, and Ed Miliband has already expressed his strong support for same-sex marriage; Liberal Democrat leaders and party have started officially backing same-sex marriage; so does the Green Party; and senior Tories have drawn inspiration from the legacy of New Labour, and suggested their party could or should consider same-sex marriage.

Some members of the LGBT community argue that marriage is an outdated, oppressive and possibly sexist civil institution. Some lesbian and gay people say they’re proud of choosing not to marry, but they couldn’t possibly be more wrong: they did not choose! I, for one, won’t dissolve my civil partnership for a marriage: it’s just not for my partner and me. But as a politician who’s worked on equality issues for over 20 years, I’m committed to giving this choice to those who do want equality both in facts and in name. Those against same-sex marriage will see their arguments reinforced by choosing not to marry once they actually have that choice.

What is Stonewall afraid of, I wonder? Surely no Sterling Pounds figure can be any serious argument against civil rights? Will Stonewall go to Pride marches across Britain next spring with placards reading ‘WE’RE STILL CONSULTING ON EQUALITY’? Ben Summerskill argued that it is an issue of ‘strategy and tactics’; but Stonewall is not in government, and their role is to represent the interests of LGBT communities. All credible polls show this to be universal access to marriage, so where’s the hurdle? Stonewall has been ‘consulting’ for so long that its deafening silence may end up being interpreted as being against universal marriage. The irony!

I’m incredibly proud to be part of the Labour Party, which has done more for LGBT rights since 1997 than any other party in British history. I’m equally proud to have co-founded Stonewall, which played a very central role in these advances. We’ve made giant leaps, and we’ve made them before many other countries—we already achieved virtual equality. But we’re slowly starting to lag behind when it comes to fully equal rights.

Universal marriage is the way forward, and now is the time to introduce it. Speak up, Ben Summerskill!

Michael Cashman is Labour MEP for the West Midlands. He co-founded Stonewall in 1989 with the actor Sir Ian McKellen, THT policy chief Lisa Power with The Times columnist and former Conservative MP Matthew Parris.