Gay Marriage Is Nothing To Fear, Bishops Say

Church Warns Of Clash Over Gay Marriage Plans

The Church of England has "nothing to fear" from the prospect of gay marriage, according to a group of senior bishops and clergymen.

The influential Anglicans added that the prospect of same-sex marriage should be a "cause for rejoicing".

In a letter to The Times, prominent figures including five former bishops said: "Recent statements by church leaders past and present may have given the impression that the Church is universally opposed to the extension of civil marriage to same-sex couples.

"We believe that does not adequately reflect the range of opinion which exists within the Church of England."

The letter is said to have been organised by Dr Jeffrey John, the openly gay Dean of St Albans.

It is also signed by the suffragan Bishop of Buckingham and the deans of Portsmouth, Norwich and Guildford.

The letter described marriage as a "robust institution which has adapted much over the centuries" and said it has "moved beyond the polygamy of the Old Testament and preoccupation with social status and property in pre-Enlightened times".

They also welcome comments made by the Bishop of Salisbury and the new Dean of St Paul's Cathedral in which they called on the Church to affirm same-sex couples.

"We believe that the church of England has nothing to fear from the introduction of civil marriage for same-sex couples.

"It will be for the churches to then decide how they respond pastorally to such a change in the law."

Plans to legalise gay civil marriage by 2015 have been put out for consultation by the Government .