Quakers to conduct gay weddings

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The Quakers have put themselves on a collision course with both the Government and fellow Christians by becoming the first mainstream religious organisation in the country to approve gay marriages.

At a meeting in York yesterday the denomination, which is also known as the Religious Society of Friends, voted to extend their marriage ceremony to same-sex couples and called on the Government to change the law on gay marriage.

British law allows same-sex couples to conduct civil partnerships, which in effect gives them all the rights of a married couple. But the law stops short of labelling the ceremony a marriage to avoid offending religious groups, who believe a marriage can only be conducted between a man and a woman.

The move is significant because, like rabbis and Church of England priests, Quaker registrars are allowed to marry people on behalf of the state. The Religious Society of Friends had long taken a tolerant stand towards homosexuality, unlike many orthodox Christians who believe homosexuality is a sin.

The issue of gay marriages has almost torn the Anglican Communion apart, with the socially liberal and conservative wings of the Church bitterly divided over the issue.