A homosexual Government minister has called on the Church of England to allow same-sex civil partnerships to be celebrated in churches.
Both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church allow only marriages to be conducted by clergy.
But junior Foreign Office minister Chris Bryant said they should be “much more open” to treating civil partnerships like marriage.
He told Time Out magazine: “All my friends who have entered into a civil partnership refer to it as their ‘marriage’ or their ‘wedding’ so the most important issue is that nobody should be discriminated against because of their sexuality.”
The call comes as the Government is pushing its new Equality Bill, which churches fear will threaten their religious liberty.
A spokesman for the Church of England said it has always been clear that “marriage is the lifelong union between a man and a woman, and that is what the liturgy of the C of E Marriage Service is exclusively intended for.”
The Rt Revd Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, said: “Of course all citizens must have equal rights without discrimination. But marriage is the basis of the family, and the stability of the family is grounded in the sameness in difference between men and women.
“Those who make public law have to realise that people of faith have consciences that need to be respected.”
Mike Judge, Head of Communications at The Christian Institute, said: “Churches are open and welcoming to all people, but that is not the same thing as forcing churches to celebrate behaviour which conflicts with their religious ethos.
“It would be like forcing the Labour Party to celebrate a Conservative election victory.
“Surely the world is big enough to allow people to be free to disagree.”