Gay marriage 'would need Church approval'

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The Archbishop of York has warned the Government it may need approval from the Church of England's legislative body if it decides to bring in gay marriages.

In his latest broadside against plans to allow gay couples the same marriage rights as heterosexuals, John Sentamu, right, said the General Synod would have to be consulted on any changes to the legal definition of marriage.

"They have got a problem because the definition of marriage is in the 1662 Prayer Book and Article 30 of the Church of England, which are both Acts of Parliament," he told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.

However, legal experts questioned the Archbishop's claim. "I can't see why Parliament would need anyone's approval to change the definition of marriage," said Adam Wagner, a barrister and editor of the UK Human Rights Blog. "Parliament is sovereign, it can legislate what it likes."

This is the second time the Archbishop has waded into the row over gay marriages in the past month. Earlier in the year he said David Cameron would be acting "like a dictator" if he forced through legislation.

However, according to an ICM poll published in The Sunday Telegraph, 45 per cent of Britons now support same-sex marriage in principle with 35 per cent against and the rest saying they are unsure. The poll suggested most people did not believe legislative change was a priority, with 78 per cent thinking it is wrong to fast-track new laws ahead of 2015.

This week, the Government will begin a consultation on the issue, inviting the public to submit their views.

Last weekend, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the head of Catholics in Scotland, caused outrage when he described gay marriage as "grotesque".

His counterpart in England and Wales, the Arch- bishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, crafted a carefully worded pastoral letter restating the church's opposition, which was read to Catholics at mass yesterday.