Marriage equality campaigners have welcomed Stonewall’s support of civil marriage for gay couples.

The charity announced yesterday that after surveying its supporters, it would add the issue to its campaigning objectives.

Stonewall was heavily criticised last month for appearing not to back the campaign, while figures such as deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and Labour Ed Miliband had declared their support months before.

In August, it declined an invitation from PinkNews.co.uk to declare its position on gay marriage. All other UK gay rights groups said they were in favour of a change in the law.

Charity co-founder Michael Cashman MEP said its “deafening silence” could be interpreted as opposition to the change, while Liberal Democrat Stephen Gilbert said that Stonewall should be lobbying him, rather than the other way round.

Mr Gilbert told PinkNews.co.uk last night: “It’s great that Stonewall are supporting the campaign for equal marriage rights for the LGBT community and I look forward to working with them to ensure that the government delivers real equality for everyone.”

The charity said it would not lobby for straight people to have civil partnerships, as campaigning for heterosexual rights is not part of its remit.

Andy Godfrey, who has been leading efforts to ask Stonewall to clarify its stance on the matter, added: “It’s great that Stonewall now support same-sex marriage, but they’ve got a long way to go to restore their credibility after their appalling handling of this issue. It took a lot of pressure to get them to change their position, and even now they seem reluctant to support full equality.

“Hopefully we can now move forward on marriage equality. We could keep moaning about Stonewall but it’s more constructive to work on marriage equality.”

Campaigners were planning to hold a demonstration outside the Stonewall awards in central London next week to protest over the charity not supporting equal marriage and not representing trans people.

Mr Godfrey said it was likely that the protest would not go ahead, although he said he could not speak for transgender activists.

Gay rights activist Peter Tatchell commended Stonewall but said it was “very disappointing” that the charity refuses to campaign for universal marriage and civil partnership equality.

He said: “This stance is de facto support for discrimination. It looks uncaring and sectarian. It doesn’t help build the LGBT-straight alliance that we need to win full equality.”

Stonewall said yesterday that it would lobby to “secure marriage for gay people as a civil vehicle on the same basis as heterosexual marriage, available in a registry office but without a mandate on religious organisations to celebrate it”.

Gay couples will soon have the right to religious civil partnership ceremonies.

A recent PinkNews.co.uk poll of 800 readers found that 98 per cent wanted the right to marry. Seventy-seven per cent agreed that marriage and civil partnerships should be open to everyone, while 23 per cent said that marriage should be the only form of recognition for all couples.

A Populus opinion poll for the Times in June 2009 found that 61 per cent of the public believe that ‘gay couples should have an equal right to get married, not just to have civil partnerships’. Only 33 per cent disagreed.