Ministers should not overrule the Bible by allowing same-sex marriage and David Cameron would be like a "dictator" if he lets homosexual couples get married, the Archbishop of York has said.
Dr John Sentamu, the second most senior cleric in the Church of England, said marriage must remain a union between a man and a woman.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, the archbishop said marriage is set in history and the state cannot change it overnight.
He said: "I don't think it is the role of the state to define what marriage is. It is set in tradition and history and you can't just (change it) overnight, no matter how powerful you are.
"We've seen dictators do it in different contexts and I don't want to redefine very clear social structures that have been in existence for a long time and then overnight the state believes it could go in a particular way.
"It's almost like somebody telling you overnight that the Church, whose job is to worship God (that it will be) an arm of the Armed Forces. They must take arms and fight. You're completely changing tradition."
The Government will open a consultation on the issue in March.
Dr Sentamu said the bishops in the House of Lords did not try to stop Labour introducing civil partnerships in 2004, giving same-sex couples improved legal rights.
He added the Church was also content with last year's move to allow civil partnership ceremonies in places of worship, as long as it is voluntary and agreed by the governing body of any particular denomination.
But Dr Sentamu said the Government would face a rebellion on any changes in legislation on gay civil marriage.
"The rebellion is going to come not only from the bishops. You're going to get it from across the benches and in the Commons.
"If you genuinely would like the registration of civil partnerships to happen in a more general way, most people will say they can see the drift. But if you begin to call those marriage, you're trying to change the English language.
"That does not mean you diminish, condemn, criticise, patronise any same-sex relationships because that is not what the debate is about.
"The Church has always stood out - Jesus actually was the odd man out. I'd rather stick with Jesus than be popular because it looks odd."
Dr Sentamu has previously expressed concern over the "gay marriage" of homosexual clergy after two reverends exchanged rings and vows at a service held in St Bartholomew the Great Church in the City of London in 2008
In a joint statement with the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, he said: "Those clergy who disagree with the Church's teaching are at liberty to seek to persuade others within the Church of the reasons why they believe, in the light of Scripture, tradition and reason that it should be changed.
"But they are not at liberty simply to disregard it."