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Argentinian priest defies Church on gay marriage

A renegade Argentinian priest who publicly supports gay marriage has vowed to defy his archbishop's orders to stop celebrating Mass.

Jose Alessio, a Roman Catholic priest, backs a bill being debated in Congress this week that would grant homosexual couples marriage and adoption rights, flouting Church doctrine and subjecting himself to sanctions.

"I feel I'm in communion with God, my people and the Gospel, regardless of whether a bishop or the Pope decides to excommunicate me," he told the BAE newspaper.

President Cristina Fernandez supports the proposal on human rights grounds, which has angered religious groups in the nominally Catholic country. If the bill is passed, Argentina will be one of a handful of countries to have such a law.

Tens of thousands of Argentinians protested against the bill on Tuesday, although opinion polls show a majority of people support gay marriage. There is less backing for same-sex couples to adopt children.

Fr Alessio has come out in favour of both measures, prompting the archbishop of central Cordoba to temporarily bar him from exercising his pastoral duties while his case is weighed by a Church tribunal.

The priest said he would not obey the "authoritarian" order, adding he was not afraid of being forced out of the Church. Senators started debating the bill at midday yesterday before putting it to a vote.