An American Episcopal clergyman has announced that he will not perform marriage ceremonies as a protest against the church’s bar on gay unions.

A conference of Anglican primates from around the world last month urged the American communion, known as Episcopalians, to desist from appointing openly gay bishops and blessing gay partnerships.

The Americans had caused tension with traditional churches by performing the blessings.

The Rev. Robert Hirschfeld, of Amherst, Massachusetts, told his congregation on Sunday:

“We are called to join the fast that our homosexual brothers and sisters in Christ have had to observe all their lives,” according to wbztv.com

While some of the congregation support their minister, others are concerned his decision is confrontation at a time when the Anglican communion’s unity is threatened over disagreements about gay issues.

Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas and the Rev. Burton Whiteside, the two other priests at Grace Episcopal Church, have said they will also refuse to marry straight couples.

“I am convinced that when gays and lesbians are baptized, they become full members of the body of Christ,” said Bullitt-Jonas told AP.

“They are not partial members or conditional members or second-class members.”

The Anglican primates held a five-day crisis meeting in Tanzania last month discuss gay rights within the church.

Conservative church leaders have pressured the U.S. church to make a statement pledging “unequivocal common covenant that the (American ) bishops will not authorise any rite of blessing for same-sex unions” by 30th September.

The instructions of the primates also states that:

“A candidate for Episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent”, although it does leave open the possibility that the Anglican communion might change its mind in the future.

Threats to exclude the American church from full participation in the communion if it does not comply were also made.