Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, has said some gay relationships are "stunning" but said he supported the Church's formal opposition to active homosexuality.
He also offered to meet gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who had criticised him in an open letter.
The comments come ahead of his enthronement on Thursday as head of the Church of England at a ceremony to be attended by the Prime Minister and Prince Charles.
Speaking to the BBC, Welby said: "You see gay relationships that are just stunning in the quality of the relationship."
But he said he did not doubt the Church's policy on same-sex relationships, saying he was "challenged as to how we respond to it".
"The Church of England holds very firmly, and continues to hold to the view, that marriage is a lifelong union of one man to one woman," he said.
"At the same time, at the heart of our understanding of what it is to be human is the essential dignity of the human being.
"And so we have to be very clear about homophobia."
Asked whether this involved "turning a blind eye" to homosexual relationships, Welby said: "It's not a blind eye - it's about loving people as they are and where they are.
"You'll find that in every church and you'll find that because it imitates the character and the practice of Jesus himself."
Tatchell had criticised the Archbishop's position on gay marriage, saying he was effectively backing discrimination against gay people.
Welby has now emailed him, thanked him for his "very thoughtful" letter and saying he would like to meet him outside the media spotlight.
Welby also told Sky News he had not had a television for two years, but enjoyed watching the West Wing when he wants to "kick back."
He said: "We do now have a TV and I do watch a bit. The great thing I love about the telly is I like happy endings, simple stories and things that don't make me think too much.
"Though I do watch some more serious stuff, but not too much, because life is pretty serious on the whole and telly is great entertainment."
Religious leaders from across the globe will be among 2,000 people at Thursday's service.
Welby, 57, will become spiritual leader of the 77-million strong Anglican Communion and 105th Archbishop of Canterbury at a service in Canterbury Cathedral.
Those also in the congregation will include representatives of major world religions including Muslims, Jews and Sikhs and senior figures from the Roman Catholic and orthodox churches.
It is the last stage in his appointment following his confirmation of election in February at St Paul's Cathedral.
The post of Archbishop of Canterbury combines several roles. The Most Rev Welby is diocesan bishop of Canterbury, head of the southern province of the Church of England and senior bishop of all England.
He is also leader of the Anglican communion worldwide.