By Ian Dunt
The Liberal Democrats further cemented their distinct party political identity today with vote backing gay marriage.
The motion, which passed, would allow straight couples to have civil ceremonies and gay couples to become married. It is sure to anger faith groups, coming just days after the Pope's visit to the UK, where he spoke out against the country's "aggressive secularism".
Speaker Ed Fordham told conference: "The marriage laws are 200 years out of date and we have the responsibility to drag them out of the closet.
"If you believe in equality you will be voting for this motion. If you believe in secularism you will vote for this motion. Don't be timid, don't be divisive."
Former London mayoral candidate Brian Paddick, who married his husband in Norway where gay marriage is allowed, said: "We're not talking about forcing religious institutions to marry same sex people. But what we are saying is: there should be equality."
The motion said that the current civil partnership arrangements in the UK were inadequate.
"To grant rights to one group of individuals which are denied to others based on sexual orientation and gender is unconscionable," it read.
"The current arrangements with regards to marriage are discriminatory in nature."
It also allowed for humanist 'celebrants' to "legally solemnise and celebrate same-sex marriage and civil partnerships in places of religious worship".
Despite the Liberal Democrat presence in government, the passing of the motion would not guarantee legislative action on the matter. But by making gay marriage a clear party policy, it makes it far more likely that Lib Dem ministers will lobby behind the scenes for it to take place.
It also raises the prospect of David Cameron authorising it at a later date to confirm the Lib Dem's influence in government - especially if the party's polling continues to decline.
But action on gay marriage would alienate many on the right of the right of the Tory party and Mr Cameron may feel that with the referendum on AV chipping away at his internal support, he is not in a position to pick another fight with his backbenchers.
Some figures in the Lib Dems are confident that they can secure gay marriage by the time of the next election in 2015, however. It is thought that the policy is close to the heart of the party's deputy leader, Simon Hughes, whose speech to conference followed the debate.
There was considerable anger in the hall at the position adopted by Stonewall, the gay rights group which has traditionally led the way in such matters.
During a fringe event last night, it became clear the group would not support calls for gay marriage.
"Stonewall are not supporting the motion. It's a joke. They are letting down the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people they are supposed to represent," Mr Fordham said.
Lib Dem MP Stephen Gilbert said: "It should not be up to me to lobby Stonewall to support equal rights for the gay community, it should be you lobbying me."
Moves to allow religious buildings to hold civil ceremonies for gay and transsexual couples have already been approved by the coalition.