The Archbishop of Cape Town has given his backing to pro gay laws ahead of a conference in Rwanda next week on the controversial relationship between the church and homosexuality.

Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, who is in charge of 24 bishops in the Province of Southern Africa said it was importance for the church to embrace diversity and find solutions to their differences.

He said, “We should try to find solutions of living with difference and otherness. Diversity is the creation by the Almighty… we need to embrace, all of us, in our differences and seek to walk together.”

The Archbishop gave his backing to same sex marriage legislation in South Africa but suggested using the word union instead, the Sapa news agency reports.

He spoke of the importance of unity to tackle important issues such as poverty, AIDS and malaria, “Issues of sexuality are not church-dividing issues. They are issues that need to be dealt with and not hidden under the table,” he said.

The row over gay bishops in the Anglican Communion has reached a new level recently after liberal clergy in the UK suggested teaming up with ideologically similar US churches, while the denomination’s most traditional church called for pro-gay congregations to be “excised.”

The Church of Nigeria says it is unfair to have to accommodate gay affirming churches, calling them “a cancerous lump in the body (which) should be excised if it has defied every known cure. To attempt to condition the whole body to accommodate it will lead to the avoidable death of the patient.”

The African church added: “We encourage the Archbishop of Canterbury to persuade those who have chosen to “walk apart” to return to the path chosen by successive generations of our forbears.”

This summer’s General Convention of the US Episcopal Church displeased conservative members after failing to ban the ordination of homosexual bishops, stemming from the outcry of the appointment of New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson in 2003.

The US Episcopal Church agreed on a watered down version of a proposal which would have banned the appointment of gay clergy.

Following the Convention, conservative bishops from San Joaquin, California, South Carolina and Pittsburgh expressed dismay at the “painful complication” created when the church called for “restraint” in the ordination of gay clergy and appointed Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, a supporter of gay rights, as its first female head.