The Church of England will not permit its buildings to be used for same-sex civil partnerships, according to the Archbishop of Canterbury.
And it will not allow itself to be dictated to by the Government.
Dr Rowan Williams made the comments at a recent private meeting with influential MPs.
His remarks come following the Coalition Government’s controversial plans to allow religious buildings to be used to conduct civil partnership ceremonies.
Dr Williams told the MPs that the Church held a clear position that marriage is between a man and a woman and would not consider changing this stance.
And when challenged by Simon Kirby, Tory MP for Brighton Kemptown, to explain what he would say to a same-sex couple wanting a church union, the Archbishop stressed that the Church would not countenance weakening its teaching on marriage and would not be dictated to by the Government.
Last month, equalities minister Lynne Featherstone announced that there would be a consultation on marriage laws starting in April.
Under the Government’s proposal, faith groups would have the choice to “opt in” to the reforms, but would not be forced to host such ceremonies.
But it is understood that the Government is also to consult on whether homosexuals should ultimately have the right to marry in addition to the right to enter into a civil partnership.
The Equality Act 2010, passed by Parliament in April last year, enabled civil partnership ceremonies to be held in religious buildings, but how this will work in practice requires further legislation.
The Government’s proposals in this regard are said to be entirely permissive and it is claimed that no organisation will be forced to allow homosexual couples to hold ceremonies on their premises.
And in an attempt to allay critics’ fears, Lynne Featherstone has given assurances that no church will be successfully sued by a homosexual couple it refuses to accommodate.
However, many still feel the introduction of religious civil partnerships is the first step towards full homosexual marriage equality.
Both David Cameron and Nick Clegg have gone on record as saying they do not believe marriage is defined by the sex of the parties to it.
In his first conference as party leader in 2006, David Cameron said of marriage that as far as he was concerned “it didn’t matter whether it was between a man and a woman, a man and a man or a woman and a woman”.
And Nick Clegg, responding to a direct question put to him last year on changing the law, said he supported gay marriage because: “Love is the same, straight or gay, so the civil institution should be the same, too.”
Last month, several evangelical Christian organisations, including The Christian Institute, released a joint statement pledging to “firmly oppose” any change in the definition of marriage.
The statement, which was signed by five evangelical groups, cautioned: “The thousands of churches that our organizations represent hold firmly to the clear teaching of the Bible that marriage is the lifelong, exclusive union of one man and one woman.
“This is the definition that has long been recognized in English law and, indeed, by almost all cultures for all of human history.”
The joint statement, entitled Homosexual marriage and the registration of civil partnerships in churches, was signed by Affinity, The Christian Institute, Christian Concern, Reform and the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches.