The Church of England is 'scaremongering' after warning that gay marriage will 'dilute' the meaning of marriage and force the church out of its role of conducting weddings, say gay rights campaigners.
In its scathing response to the UK government's consultation on legalizing same-sex marriage in England and Wales, which closes on Thursday (14 June), the church says the proposals would reduce marriage to a 'consumerist' agreement.
It adds that any challenge to the legislation in the European Court of Human Rights would be futile and therefore leave the church with no other choice than to stop conducting ceremonies on behalf of the state.
Prime Minister David Cameron and Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone insist the equal civil marriage proposals would not impinge on religious organizations' definition of marriage and there would be no obligation for them to carry out same-sex weddings.
Gay rights activist Peter Tatchell has branded the Church's response as 'scaremongering'.
'The government’s proposals concern only civil marriages in register offices. They will have no impact on faith organisations or places of worship,' said Tatchell, who is coordinator of the Equal Love campaign.
'Senior churchmen are protesting against a law change that will not affect them. They have no right to demand that gay couples should be banned from civil marriage ceremonies.'
He adds that it is 'untrue' that subsequent legal challenges to gay marriage would force churches to marry same-sex couples.
'Civil divorces are legal, yet there has never been a successful legal challenge to religious organisations that ban divorce. The courts recognise a distinction between civil and religious institutions,' he said.
Tatchell, however, is campaigning for religious institutions to be allowed to conduct gay weddings if they wish and blasted Church of England leaders for 'dictating' who clergy can or can't marry.
UK-based gay rights group Stonewall said that is 'manifestly no evidence' that same-sex unions have any impact on the institution of marriage.
'It seems odd that the Church of England should be obsessing about a few thousand gay couples once again when there are currently three million children in Britain living in single parent households,' said Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill.
'It's an important issue of religious freedom that any denomination should be free to decline to celebrate long-term same-sex partnerships.
'Conversely, that means that a church should not be entitled to prevent other institutions or the state from recognising them either.
'We trust the Church of England will eventually reconcile itself to same-sex marriage, just as it reconciled itself to the abolition of slavery and universal suffrage, both of which it also firmly opposed when first suggested.'
Campaigners are also urging people to complete the short official survey and you can sign the Coalition for Equal Marriage (C4EM) petition here.