Gay rights charity Stonewall has responded to an open letter asking it to clarify its stance on marriage equality for gay and straight couples.

The response said that Stonewall was consulting its supporters and identifying objections that could be made against a change in the law.

Earlier this month, a letter signed by a number of gay rights activists, gay religious groups and individuals was sent to the charity.

It asked the charity to “openly support full marriage equality”, adding that “separate but equal is not equal”.

The charity has not publicly lobbied for marriage equality, having helped pass the Civil Partnerships Act in 2004.

Stonewall replied that it had made its current position on marriage equality clear some months ago and that it had received a “range of views”.

It added that it was “now consulting across our supporter base”.

As chief executive Ben Summerskill argued at a Labour conference fringe event on Monday, the letter warned that a consensus on the issue was needed and that if this was not the case, new laws could be “undermined” during the legislative process.

The letter said: “We know from bitter experience (when the Civil Partnership Bill was wrecked in the House of Lords) that a perceived failure to build consensus is always exploited by opponents of equality to try and undermine it during the legislative process.

“We also know from experience that we have to identify and address objections that might arise to any proposal and that it’s better to do that in advance.”

It added that Stonewall had been speaking to ministers about ending the situation where trans people must divorce their partners to get a Gender Recognition Certificate and said it would make its views known in the “near future”.

This week, Stonewall co-founders Michael Cashman MEP and actor Ian McKellen said that the charity should include marriage equality on its agenda.

The original letter was signed by Peter Tatchell, Liberal Democrat MP Steve Gilbert, PinkNews.co.uk founder Benjamin Cohen, trans campaigner Christine Burns and human rights lawyer Professor Robert Wintemute

Other signatories include straight couple Tom Freeman and Katherine Doyle, who have been campaigning for the right to a civil partnership, and representatives from a wide number of LGBT faith and humanist groups

Andrew Godfrey, the University of Southhampton student who organised the open letter, told PinkNews.co.uk: “It’s great that Stonewall are now talking about marriage equality, but it’s a shame that they seem to think it’s okay for an LGB equality organisation not to support LGB equality.

“They’re apparently consulting their members, but I’ve yet to speak to a Stonewall member who has been consulted – the consultation process needs to be far more transparent.”

Stonewall’s reply:
Dear Andy, Peter, Benjamin and others,

Thank you for your letter received on 21 September.

We’re sorry that you haven’t felt happy about Stonewall’s published position on the future of civil partnership and marriage equality. We are an organisation with almost 20,000 active supporters. We’ve already encountered a range of views and we’re now consulting across our supporter base. We made this position clear some months ago and that approach has been explained on our website.

The reason we’re determined to consult people about our exact approach to this sensitive issue is because we are aiming to secure a consensus across the whole LGB communities about the detail. We know from bitter experience (when the Civil Partnership Bill was wrecked in the House of Lords) that a perceived failure to build consensus is always exploited by opponents of equality to try and undermine it during the legislative process. We also know from experience that we have to identify and address objections that might arise to any proposal and that it’s better to do that in advance.

We recognise, of course, that Benjamin’s website [PinkNews.co.uk] saw a high level of support. However, as Benjamin himself has acknowledged, his poll was of fewer than 1,000 people and these represent only one small part of our huge and complex community. Other people do have views which differ significantly and, in our view, it’s worth trying to accommodate their concerns.

In summary, our view is that having started a consultative process it would be entirely inappropriate (and unfair to people engaging in it) to announce the outcome before it’s over. We recognise this may be frustrating for some people.

While writing, we should mention that we’re as concerned as you are about the gross unfairness of transgender people having to divorce upon changing gender. Our clear view is that there is a much simpler, and quicker, method of resolving this unfairness than through gay marriage. We have raised face-to-face with both ministers and officials in recent months the minor amendments we believe could be made to the Gender Recognition Act to secure this.

We will make our policy position clear in the near future and we look forward to your support in the meantime.

With best wishes

Stonewall