Gay rights charity Stonewall has published its response to the government consultation on how to introduce marriage equality for gay couples in England and Wales, saying civil partnerships have not been ‘sufficient to diminish the remaining prejudice against gay people’.

Chief Executive Ben Summerskill called for the “calm voice of lesbian and gay people” to be heard in the debate, by submitting views to the public consultation being run by the Home Office.

In its response, Stonewall says it had believed attitudes would change following the introduction of civil partnerships and the country would see “measurable reductions” in prejudice and discrimination against gays and lesbians.

But citing the 20,000 homophobic crimes which take place each year and the “vitriol seen in statements by many political and religious leaders”, comparisons between gay marriages and “child abuse, slavery, polygamy and bestiality”, it says this has not been the case.

Equal but separate systems for gay and straight couples, it says, “perpetuate the notion, even if inadvertently, that relationships between same-sex couples are not as stable or valid as those between heterosexual couples”.

The response adds that the recent “offensive discourse” has led “many to conclude that the extension of marriage” will remedy that discrimination felt by gays and lesbians in Britain.

Stonewall also said a “significant number” of its supporters have a “strong wish” for equal marriage rights.

The charity calls for religious bodies to be able to hold gay wedding ceremonies if they wish to, a measure that the government has not proposed but one which Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, writing exclusively for PinkNews.co.uk, says Labour will press for.

It also favours the retention of the civil partnerships system for gay couples who would rather use it than marriage but does not take a view on civil partnerships for straight people, suggesting the government “consult with them and stakeholder organisations representing them”.

Stonewall also states that the backdating of state pension entitlements for all civil partners and spouses to 1978 would be welcomed by “millions of public sector workers”.

Currently, gay civil partners, male or female, are treated in the same way as widowed men as regards a deceased partner’s state pension, with contributions only being taken from 1988.

The response concludes that the cost of implementation could be as little as £1 for each gay person in Britain and the weddings which would follow from equal marriage laws would provide an economic stimulus. It adds that the government may have overstated the costs of training registrars to perform gay civil weddings.

Ben Summerskill, Chief Executive of Stonewall said: “We’re pleased that the consultation process has finally started and are delighted to submit Stonewall’s full response. Stonewall supports the Government’s plans to make this modest change to extend the legal form of marriage.

“Leading clerics and some political figures have, in the past three weeks alone, compared equality for gay people with slavery, child abuse, polygamy and bestiality. That’s why it’s critical that the calm voices of lesbian and gay people are heard in this debate too.

“Ministers have pledged that same-sex couples will be able to marry in Britain by 2015. We trust that, given this commitment, these proposals will be included in the Queen’s Speech in May.”

Stonewall had come under pressure from co-founders and other gay campaigners to adopt a position in favour of equal marriage for gays and did so in 2010.

The charity recently published its own a draft marriage equality bill listing the five legislative steps it considered necessary to implement equal marriage for gay couples.