With the House of Lords debating the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill on Monday afternoon, several former Conservative cabinet ministers – including three former health secretaries – have each given their firm backing to the measure in an open letter to the Times newspaper.

Former health secretaries Lord Fowler and Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone, who is married to the Conservative MP Sir Peter Bottomley – another supporter of equal marriage – have each signed the letter.

Other signatures include: Lord Jenkin of Roding, health secretary until 1981 when he was succeeded by Lord Fowler, and former Tory ministers Lord Hunt of Wirral and Lord Garel-Jones of Watford.

The letter states:-

A majority of the public now supports same-sex marriage, and legislatures around the world are reflecting this change of attitude.

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill will be debated in the House of Lords today. We believe it is right to open up marriage to loving and committed same-sex couples, and that this important institution will be strengthened by the change. The bill rightly enshrines the principle of religious freedom, protecting those faith groups that do not wish to conduct same-sex marriages, but allowing others to do so if they wish.

Parliament has intervened to redefine the scope of marriage over the past three centuries. A majority of the public now supports same-sex marriage, and legislatures around the world are reflecting this change of attitude. The elected House of Commons passed this bill on a free vote by more than a two to one cross-party majority.

The House of Lords should consider this legislation carefully, but it would be wrong to hinder a measure whose time has come.

The current Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and his immediate predecessor, Andrew Lansley, are both firm supporters of the bill.

As Leader of the House of Commons, Mr Lansley has played a key role in steering the legislation through the lower chamber.

Lord Fowler served as Health Secretary in the 1980s at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

He extensively documented the failures of successive governments in diverting enough resources and attention to HIV prevention in a 2011 report.

Last month, he said: “Parliament should value people equally in the law, and that enabling same-sex couples to marry removes the current inequity.”