The HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust has said today that allowing gay couples an equal right to marry as straight couples would improve the nation’s sexual health.

The charity voiced its support for the move in a response to the government’s public consultation on marriage equality, which ends today.

It said that the current system perpetuates inequality between gay and straight people, with the ban on marriage for gay couples sending “an ongoing signal that they are somehow second class”. The Trust pointed to evidence that low self-esteem and social stigma contribute to poor decision-making regarding sexual health.

Lisa Power , Policy Director at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “Reductions in partner change are accepted as a major factor in reducing sexually transmitted infections, which are rising amongst gay men. Yet at the same time, the Government and our current marriage system send the signal that those with same sex partners are somehow not worthy of the main institution which supports and encourages monogamy and has the potential for lower levels of partner change. This is illogical.

“If you spend your life being told you are a second class citizen, you take less care of yourself. Legislation to introduce equal marriage rights would be an important marker in convincing current and future generations that their lives have the same value whether they are attracted to the same sex, the opposite sex, or both. Increased self-esteem, driven by societal esteem and equality, will in turn drive improved self care.”

The consultation response, which can be read here, also states: “Many of our staff, volunteers and service users at Terrence Higgins Trust are in same-sex relationships. Some, including people who have had life partnerships of 30 years and more, have already availed themselves of civil partnership; but in many cases this was not because a civil partnership was their end goal and fulfilled their relationship, but because it was the only option available to them.

“We do not understand why these people, who have given as much to our country as anyone else, should be denied the same simple civil confirmation of their love as others amongst our ranks who happen to have chosen someone of the opposite sex as their life partner.”

THT also pointed to recent figures which indicate that one in 20 gay men are living with HIV, a figure which rises to one in seven on London’s gay scene.