I don't know anyone who has had a divorce because some poor gay sod has won legal recognition

In EastEnders recently, Mel asked Dr Fonseca a direct question. "Are you gay?" "Yes," he said. "Good," she replied, and, er . . . that was it. It did not bother her. The good doctor has now only to tell the rest of Albert Square and hope for as nonchalant a response. Who knows, he may even get it now that Grant Mitchell has gone for good. Being gay these days, even in a soap opera, is no big deal. Fonseca has not been introduced as a "gay character", but as a character who just happens to be gay.

This is, in its own small way, as much of a step forward as the recent legal judgments concerning the rights of gay fathers. Barrie Drewitt and Tony Barlow have won the right to appear together as fathers on their child's birth certificate. Their child is due to be born in the US to a surrogate mother. The Law Lords granted Martin Fitzpatrick an assured tenancy of the flat he shared with his late partner, John Thompson, whom he had nursed for eight years following a fall.

The gay pressure group, Stonewall, is now campaigning for legal protection of gays and lesbians in the workplace, as well as for the equalisation of the age of consent to 16.

So now that everyone is glad to be gay - or at least glad that other people are - what else is there left to fight for? Gay people have become part of mainstream culture, not some marginalised minority. A man in drag such as Lily Savage can partner Richard of "Richard and Judy" fame on daytime TV when Judy Finnigan is off work with real "women's problems". George Michael can charm the nation with his talk about cottaging on prime-time Saturday night viewing with Michael Parkinson. Chris Smith can take his partner out in public and no one bats an eyelid. Ellen Degeneres and her lover Ann Heche go to dinner with the Clintons. Isn't everything lovely now that we are all as queer as folk?

Perhaps not quite as lovely as it should be. For, while all this may be going on, we have the prospect of Michael Portillo facing a troubled future because of his gay past. Peter Tatchell will not let Portillo forget it because he has not been totally straight about it, and has accused him of being hypocritical when it comes to voting over gay issues. The tabloids will not let him forget it because they sense another ex-lover who will spill the liquorice all-sorts. If it were really acceptable to be gay, Peter Mandelson would stop being so touchy about his private life - which is public knowledge anyway. It as if we are saying it is OK to be gay if you talk about being 100 per cent homosexual and proud of it. Anything else makes us edgy.

Ron Davies's "moment of madness" is a testament to this. His confused explanations revealed a confused attitude to sexuality that is no longer permissible. We expect people to know what they are. As Michael Brown, the former MP who was himself outed by the tabloids, wrote, there are questions that Portillo must have the courage to answer, such as: "How did you stop being gay?"

One might say this is none of our damn business. Whatever arrangement Portillo and his wife have come to is between them. Yet for politicians, this does matter because they will make and have made pronouncements that affect the lives of gay people. This is, therefore, an argument about hypocrisy, not homosexuality. Tories who gave us Section 28 of the Local Government Act, with its obscene outlawing of anyone seen to promote "pretend" family life, may thus legitimately be asked if their own family life involves some degree of pretence.

The legal battles that have given gay people more rights than before have not just been granted by a society that has become more tolerant overnight, but have been won by gay people who have campaigned hard for many years. It is not that every gay public figure has to be reduced to being a spokesman or spokeswoman for gay rights. But to benefit from an increased liberalisation of attitudes, without acknowledging how and why these attitudes have changed, betrays a degree of arrogance.

We are also seeing, in legal terms anyway, some degree of the normalisation of gay life, which in many ways is not radical. If gay people can be tolerated because, guess what, they look after each other and have children just like us, the world can be divided into "good gays" and "bad gays".

Good gays stay together in committed relationships, and bad gays go to night clubs and public toilets. Good gays know that they are gay from the minute they are born and stay that way. Bad gays have long, complicated pasts and lonely futures.

Yet the truth is that gay life does not have to be like straight life to be somehow acceptable. To argue this would be to take on the agenda of the family-values brigade, who make life miserable not only for gays, but also for the many heterosexual people who live in pretend family relationships. According to the family-values people, every legal landmark for gays in itself undermines heterosexual marriage. They don't appear to realise that the people who are experts in undermining heterosexual marriage are unfortunately heterosexuals.

No one I know has got divorced because some poor gay sod has won the right to be legally defined as someone else's partner on a travel pass. There is still enormous discrimination, and no one should be complacent. Attitudes are changing and the law is now trying to catch up with these changes, but the time when we consider a person's sexuality the least interesting thing about them is still a very long way off. As I am sure that even Michael Portillo might admit, if he were happy to talk about what it is like for someone to be gay in the present instead of the past.

The writer is a columnist on the "Mail on Sunday"