Marriage must remain a union between one man and one woman, the Archbishop of York has warned.
Dr John Sentamu, in an interview with The Daily Telegraph, warned ministers not to ride roughshod over centuries of tradition by changing the definition of marriage.
He cautioned that such a move would face fierce opposition from bishops and parliamentarians.
He said: “I don’t think it is the role of the state to define what marriage is. It is set in tradition and history and you can’t just [change it] overnight, no matter how powerful you are.”
Dr Sentamu, the Church of England’s second most senior Bishop, warned that the Government would face a rebellion over the issue.
“The rebellion is going to come not only from the bishops,” he said. “You’re going to get it from across the benches and in the Commons.
“If you genuinely would like the registration of civil partnerships to happen in a more general way, most people will say they can see the drift.
“But if you begin to call those ‘marriage’, you’re trying to change the English language.”
The Westminster Government is set to launch a consultation on redefining marriage in March.
Peter Tatchell, a prominent homosexual activist, said: “Archbishop Sentamu is a religious authoritarian who wants to impose his personal opposition to same-sex marriage on the rest of society.”
Last week a senior Roman Catholic challenged the Home Secretary about the Government’s plans to redefine marriage.
Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark noted that civil partnerships already offer same-sex couples virtually all the rights of marriage.
In light of that, he said that Home Secretary Theresa May seemed unable to say why marriage should be redefined.