By Ian Dunt
Coalition plans to allow gay couples to conduct their civil partnership in religious buildings have met with resistance from the Catholic Church.
In a strongly worded statement, the Archbishop of Southwark, the Most Rev Peter Smith, warned the change could fundamentally alter the institution of marriage and that it was neither "necessary nor desirable".
The government is opening up a change to the law to consultation, with an idea to implementing pre-existing legislation soon. There are strong grounds for suspecting that the coalition is preparing to push ahead with gay marriage.
The move would not force any religious institution to conduct a civil partnership. Quakers and Unitarians were quick to say they would conduct ceremonies. The Catholic Church and Church of England said they were opposed to the plans.
"No authority - civil or religious - has the power to modify the fundamental nature of marriage," the Archbishop said in a statement.
"The Equality Act was amended to permit civil partnerships on religious premises, which unhelpfully blurs the distinction previously upheld by parliament and the courts between marriage and civil partnerships.
"A consenting minister is perfectly free to hold a religious ceremony either before or after a civil partnership. That is a matter of religious freedom, but it requires no legislation by the state. We do not believe it is either necessary or desirable to allow the registration of civil partnerships on religious premises. These will not take place in Catholic churches."
He added: "Marriage does not belong to the state any more than it belongs to the church. It is a fundamental human institution rooted in human nature itself. It is a lifelong commitment of a man and a woman to each other, publicly entered into, for their mutual wellbeing and for the procreation and upbringing of children."
The Liberal Democrats voted to support gay marriage last year, and both the prime minister and deputy prime minister are thought to support the policy, but early objections from the church could discourage any new moves from the government.