An openly gay vicar has defied the Bishop of Durham and taken part in a gay wedding earlier today.

The Rev Christopher Wardale, 59, from Darlington, married Malcolm Macourt, 58, in a civil ceremony in Newcastle. They then received a blessing in church.

Rev Wardale, vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Darlington, Co Durham has been in a gay relationship with Mr Macourt for over 19 years. He told the BBC: “It’s very important to us to do this and I hope others feel they’re able to do it too.

“People want to make a commitment to each other with rights and responsibilities and it’s about time the state recognises and supports that.

“It’s been that way when men and women get married for hundreds of years.”

Earlier this year, the Church of England announced that gay vicars will be allowed to marry their partners in a Civil Partnership so long as they vow to remain celibate.

This week, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev Tom Wright wrote to clergy warning them: “by holding services of blessing or near equivalent, [may] force me to make disciplinary enquiries.”

He added, “If clergy decide to enter a civil partnership they are thereby putting me in a new situation in which my own integrity as diocesan bishop, and my collegial position within the House of Bishops, strongly suggest that I should follow the process thus recommended.

“I fully understand that some people feel bound in conscience to disobey the clear and official teaching of the Church on these matters.”

Almost 700 other gay couples are expected to tie the knot across the country today.