02/11/2011 09:27 GMT | Updated 02/01/2012 05:12 GMT

Civil Partnerships Can Take Place In Churches, Lynne Featherstone Announces

Gay couples are to be allowed to take part in civil partnerships in church and other places of worship under new Government plans.

Equalities minister Lynne Featherstone confirmed a scheme is intended to be in place by the end of the year to allow religious premises to apply to be approved for civil partnership registrations.

"The Government is committed to advancing equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people and to ensuring freedom of religion or belief for all people," she said in a written ministerial statement.

"To further both of these aims, the Government is committed to removing the legal barrier to civil partnerships being registered on the religious premises of those faith groups who choose to allow this to happen."

The move comes after an amendment was made in the last Parliament in the House of Lords to the Equality Act which removed the ban on holding civil partnership ceremonies in religious premises.

The proposals were passed following pressure from groups including smaller Christian denominations such as the Quakers, who already bless same-sex couples who have entered civil partnerships.

But the Church of England has warned that clergy should not provide services of blessing for same-sex couples.

A Church of England spokesman said: "We will study the draft regulations as a matter of urgency to check that they deliver the firm assurances that have been given to us and others that the new arrangements will operate by way of denominational opt-in.

"If ministers have delivered what they said they would in terms of genuine religious freedom, we would have no reason to oppose the regulations.

"The House of Bishops' statement of July 2005 made it clear that the Church of England should not provide services of blessing for those who register civil partnerships and that remains the position. The Church of England has no intention of allowing civil partnerships to be registered in its churches."