Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the US, has called for a separation between state and religion in the signing of marriage licences, the Emory Wheel reports.

Speaking at a lecture titled ‘The faith of a gay bishop’ at Emory University last night, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire said that despite religious officials frequently signing marriage licences, the state should handle the legal aspect of the ceremony, leaving churches to provide blessings.

This way, he argued, states could legalise the marriages of opposite-sex or same-sex couples regardless of religious institutions’ views on homosexuality.

Robinson also argued that progressive Christians need to “rescue” the Bible from the religious right, saying “It will take religious people and religious voices to undo the harm that has been done by religious institutions … It’s time to start demanding separation of church and state.”

He attacked several anti-gay arguments based on the Bible, citing the example of eating pork and wearing two types of cloth together as also being classed as “abominations”.

He said: “You can’t take a 20th century word, stick it back into an ancient text, and expect it to mean something entirely unknown to the authors of the text. These verses are quoted as if our world has never changed.

“Although I believe the New and Old Testaments to be the word of God, I do not believe it is the words of God,” he added, making a distinction between the human authors of the texts and the spirit in which they were written.

Robinson also cited verses in the Book of Genesis that are used to argue against non-heterosexual activity, saying they should be taken in the context of their time.

According to the bishop, the verses which forbid the spilling of a man’s seed should be considered in light of the Ancient Hebrews, who as a minority struggling to multipy, saw the waste of semen as murder.

In a lecture last week at Copley Square in Boston, Robinson said the Exodus story was “the greatest coming out story in the history of the world” because it relates to freedom and release from slavery.

Last month, he gave evidence before New Hampshire’s legislature on a bill that will legalise gay marriage.

“Ladies and gentleman of the Judiciary Committee, don’t let the religious opponents to marriage equality you will hear from today and in the days to come make you afraid to do what is right,” he said.

The bill was approved by the state house last week and will pass to the Senate.