Archbishop John Sentamu

The Archbishop of York has been called “intolerant and out of touch” for condemning the British government’s plans to legalise same-sex civil marriages.

Leading LGBT rights campaigner Peter Tatchell criticised Archbishop Dr John Sentamu, the second most powerful cleric in the Church of England, over his views on gay marriage.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, the Ugandan-born Sentamu said that while people and the Church could accept civil partnerships between gay couples, the government should keep its hands off marriage.

“Marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman,” 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.”

He added that “we supported civil partnerships because we believe that friendships are good for everybody”.

Sentamu also warned that if the government went ahead with its plans, which he suggested were dictatorial, it faced a rebellion “not only from the bishops. You’re going to get it from across the benches and in the Commons”.

Tatchell, however, called Sentamu “the real dictator”, saying that he “wants to impose his personal opposition to gay marriage” on society.

“The Archbishop is unelected, whereas the government is democratically elected and a clear majority of the public support same-sex civil marriages,” said Tatchell.

“Dr Sentamu is a religious authoritarian who opposes equality. It is not a loving Christian value to demand legal discrimination against gay couples and to treat them as inferior, second class citizens.

“The Archbishop’s insulting, disparaging attitude towards lesbian and gay people is evidenced by the way he dismisses loving same-sex civil partnerships as mere friendships.”

Tatchell noted that the British government is proposing to legalise same-sex marriages in register offices only and that this would not affect churches.

“The Archbishop has no valid grounds for objecting to civil registrations that will ensure marriage equality for all couples. His demand to preserve the tradition and history of marriage is very similar to the arguments that were in the past used by the church to justify slavery, colonialism and the denial of votes to women,” said Tatchell.

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