The Times, the paper of record in the United Kingdom and on the breakfast table of most MPs this morning, has published another editorial in favour of same-sex marriage.

The Times became the first national newspaper to back same-sex marriage last May and has been a consistent supporter of the rights of same-sex couples to marry.

In an editorial the paper said:-

Nobody, said Lord Melbourne, ever did anything very foolish except from some strong principle. Many believe that David Cameron is fulfilling that observation. The Prime Minister has invested much political capital in the cause of gay marriage. He has provoked strong political and ecclesiastical opposition, with no obvious countervailing pressure and uncertain hope of electoral reward.

Mr Cameron is, however, right to take this stand. When MPs vote today on legislation to enable same-sex couples to marry in civil and religious ceremonies in England and Wales, they should give it support. The Times understands the views of those, including many of our readers, who have no trace of anti-homosexual prejudice but are hostile to extending marriage rights to gay couples. Yet many Conservatives have also moderated their views as they have observed the happiness and stability of serious gay relationships.

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill proposes a modest reform, consistent with the way that the institution of marriage has adapted over generations to accord with changing mores and perceptions of the demands of justice. Same-sex marriage would enhance the quality of life of gay couples who seek no more than the civic recognition of their union.

High-profile critics of the Government’s proposals include Justin Welby, newly enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales. More than 20 current and former chairmen of Conservative constituency associations have written to Mr Cameron urging him to delay considering legislation on gay marriage until after the next election. Conservative MPs, with a free vote, are likely to split three ways on the Bill. Mr Cameron may well have to rely on the votes of Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs to secure the passage of legislation.

But there is a wider constituency too. Opinion polls show public support for gay marriage running at well over 50 per cent. That support is almost certainly founded not on abstract arguments but on the prosaic observation that same-sex couples have become an integral part of national life. The campaign for gay marriage rights is not a revolutionary demand of an unrepresentative pressure group. It is a simple and undemonstrative recognition of the love and care that countless gay couples show each other.

Writing in The Times last week, Matthew Parris, our columnist and a former Conservative MP, recalled the parliamentary debate in 1967 to decriminalise homosexuality. Much legislative and cultural distance lies between that elementary reform, which lifted the threat of legal persecution from gay men, and now. Yet opponents of that measure, like opponents of the Civil Partnership Act of 2004, found that society moved swiftly on. Public attitudes led, and were not led by, civic recognition of the validity of gay relationships.

The same is true of gay marriage. Reformers do not want to redefine marriage. On the contrary, they regard marriage as so valuable that they want its benefits and responsibilities extended without discrimination to couples who at the moment are denied them on the morally irrelevant ground that the partners are of the same sex. If the institution of marriage cannot come to terms with the fact of stable, loving gay relationships, it will lose legitimacy.

Marriage endures in part because it works with the grain of human needs. It has evolved historically in ways that advance
dignity and acknowledge human rights regardless of sex. There has never been a more radical change in its provisions than when women were granted the right to own property independent of their husbands. Same-sex marriage enshrines justice, founded on the principle of equality. It will enrich the lives of many.