The legalization of gay marriage in the UK will help fight the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, health experts claim today (13 June).
In its response to the UK government's consultation on legalizing same-sex civil marriage in England and Wales, which closes tomorrow (14 June) at 11.59pm, the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) says the historic legislation will improve the sexual health of gays, lesbians and bisexuals by reducing stigma.
'Reductions in partner change are accepted as a major factor in reducing sexually transmitted infections, which are rising amongst gay men,' said Lisa Power, policy director at THT, Britain's biggest sexual health charity.
'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.'
The charity argues that continuing inequality over marriage perpetuates stigma, which in turn contributes to disproportionately high levels of sexual ill health among gay men.
Power added: '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.'
According to THT, gay men are still disproportionately affected by HIV in the UK, with one in 20 gay men currently living with the condition. And that figure is rising to one in seven on the London gay scene.
Rates of sexually transmitted infections also remain high among this group, with cases of gonorrhea among gay men increasing by 61% between 2010 and 2011.
Both lesbians and gay men have, amongst other health inequalities, higher levels of substance abuse and mental health concerns, due in considerable part to ongoing stigma and discrimination.
Despite fierce opposition to gay marriage from religious leaders, a ComRes poll last week showed the majority of gay people supported same-sex marriage, with 77% believing marriage should not be exclusively for straight couples.
Campaigners are also urging people to complete the short official survey and you can sign the Coalition for Equal Marriage (C4EM) petition here.