British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and former Prime Minister Tony Blair over the weekend endorsed an effort to legalize gay marriage in the country before 2015.

Last September, the UK's ruling party, the Conservative Party, which governs in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, unveiled plans to legalize gay marriage, promising to release a consultation document detailing its plans this month.

The government currently recognizes gay and lesbian couples with civil partnerships, which offer most of the legal protections of marriage. Heterosexual couples are not allowed to enter a civil partnership.

Clegg told attendees at the spring Liberal Democrat conference that marriage is a fundamental right that extends to gay couples, UK gay weekly Pink Paper reported.

“Let me just say, if you are a young gay person, your freedom to love who you choose is a fundamental right in a liberal society and you will always have our support,” Clegg said.

Prime Minister David Cameron, the head of the Conservative Party, supports the government's move, saying it promotes conservative values such as commitment.

The Independent on Sunday over the weekend quoted Blair, a Roman Catholic since 2007, as telling friends that he “strongly supports the Prime Minister's proposal.”

The comments come as religious leaders – including senior figures in the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England – have sharply criticized the government's plans.

Clegg alluded to those criticisms: “We are bringing forward proposals for gay marriage, already provoking debate.” (The video is embedded in the right panel of this page. Visit our video library for more videos.)

On Friday, Pope Benedict XVI called on visiting U.S. bishops to fight the “powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage.”