The government risked a clash with the Church of England last night by backing calls to lift the ban on homosexual couples holding civil partnership ceremonies in places of worship.
The Church gave a frosty response to moves to allow same-sex couples to use religious symbols, such as hymns and Bible readings, as they commit themselves to each other.
A spokesman said the proposal by Lynne Featherstone, the equalities minister, could lead to confusion and "difficult and unintended consequences for churches and faiths". He said any such change could only happen "after proper and careful consideration of all the issues involved, to ensure that the intended freedom for all denominations over these matters is genuinely secured".
The proposal will find no favour with the Roman Catholic Church, with Pope Benedict XVI describing gay marriage as "insidious". However, some faiths, including the Quakers and Liberal Jews, support hosting same-sex ceremonies and would apply to allow their buildings to be used for them. It was not clear last night whether such ceremonies could be formally described as "marriages". A Home Office spokesman said: "We're considering what the next stage should be, including how some religious organisations can allow same-sex couples to register their relationships. Ministers have met a range of people and organisations to hear their views."