Committee members organising an ancient marriage event are debating whether to include civil partners in a 900 year old contest to find the happiest married couple.

The Dunmow Flitch Trials are held every four years and require married couples to persuade a judge and jury of “6 maidens and 6 bachelors” that they would “not wisht themselves unmarried,” but now a debate has emerged between the Essex organisers whether to include same sex couples.

Winners of the contest receive a “flitch side of bacon” and are paraded through the streets.

Michael Chapman, a member of the Flitch Trials Committee, says gay couples should be welcomed into the tradition which dates back to 1104. He told the Daily Telegraph: “There is no reason a civil partnership couple shouldn’t apply, we would consider everyone purely on their merits, although we could not guarantee that they would be selected.”

He was backed by John Murphy, a local district councillor, who said the event should reflect society, “We have not yet had a Jewish, Muslim or Sikh couple apply, but we are such a diverse society that there is no reason why that day should not come.

“If you go back to the original custom, it was for a Christian, heterosexual marriage, but if it has already changed to reflect society, it is right that it should continue to do so.

However, the Reverend David Ainge, a vicar at St Mary’s Parish Church, also a member of the committee, said it should only be open to married couples, he told the paper, “A civil partnership is not a marriage, the law of the land specifically says that.

“The Flitch Trials are about putting a couple’s marriage under the spotlight, not their relationship.

“If civil partnership couples were allowed to enter, it would change the very foundation of the trials and require a significant re-writing of the whole event.”

The event involves couple’s kneeling in front of a jury and swearing that they have not argued in the last year.

Fred Shepherd, 86, won the contest in 2000, he doesn’t agree that gay couples should be allowed, “It’s against the whole idea of it,

“This dates back to the 12th century and it is about what marriage stands for and having children in wedlock.

“I’m in my eighties and I’m old fashioned; I would much prefer to see it kept for married couples.”

The next contest is in 2008, to apply visit www.dunmowflitchtrials.co.uk/applicationform.htm