Tony Blair has said he is proud of his achievements on gay rights while prime minister, and that Britain has had a cultural change since 1997.
Gay rights had made Britain more civilised, said Mr Blair
Addressing campaign group Stonewall, Mr Blair said civil partnerships had had a "civilising effect" which reached beyond the gay community.
He said the first civil partnerships had given him a lot of pride and joy.
It comes after the House of Lords backed new gay equality laws at the centre of a row with Roman Catholics.
The prime minister said people could now take for granted things like civil partnerships, which they could not a decade ago when Labour came to power.
Referring to the first civil partnerships, Mr Blair said: "It's a thing that doesn't just give me a lot of pride, but it has actually brought a lot of joy."
He admitted doing "a little skip" when he saw the first partnership ceremonies on television.
"What has happened is that the culture of the country has changed in a definable way as a result of it. This is what I think is really interesting," he said.
"The change in culture and the civilising effect of it has gone far greater than the gay and lesbian community."
He added that allowing discrimination "to fester" was against everything a modernising nation stood for.
Mr Blair was praised by Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill who said: "I do remember thinking at the time this is a guy who takes equality seriously and I think there has been plenty of evidence of that in the intervening years."
The government's attempts to introduce the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations - outlawing discrimination against gay people by businesses or service providers - have met some controversy.
Mr Blair refused to give the Catholic Church's adoption agencies an opt-out of the rules requiring them to consider gay couples as prospective parents.
But the Church says it will have to shut its agencies, which handle some of the hardest-to-place children, rather than go against its beliefs.
The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Rev Michael Scott-Joynt, was among critics who said the situation was now that gay rights appeared to "trump" everyone else's.
But Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly, herself a Catholic, said the laws were a "major step forward" which would deliver "dignity, respect and fairness for all".