(Photo: Reuters/Antony Njuguna)
The Archbishop of York, the second highest figure in the Church of England, has spoken out in opposition to gay marriage weeks ahead of a government consultation on the issue, saying it is not the role of the state to redefine marriage.
Dr John Sentamu has told The Daily Telegraph that marriage is a union between one man and one woman, and suggested that the government would be acting like "dictators" if they tried to change it.
"Marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman," says Sentamu. "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 that the Church, whose job is to worship God [will be] an arm of the Armed Forces. They must take arms and fight. You're completely changing tradition."
The Church of England has previously voiced concerns over the British government's move to allow civil partnership ceremonies in places of worship, insisting that churches must not be compelled to do so.
It accepted the introduction of civil partnerships as a fair way of extending legal rights to same-sex couples, but has raised objections in the past to any attempt to blur the distinction between civil partnerships and marriage.
Sentamu suggested the government will face a similar rebellion to the one that shot down its proposed cap on benefits.
"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," he said.
"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, criticize, patronize 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."