The Church of England General Synod yesterday approved giving the civil partners of deceased gay clergy equal pensions rights.

This means that they will be given the same pensions benefits as heterosexual widows or widowers.

Currently, straight surviving spouses can receive pension benefits based on the entire length of their spouses’ service, but gay spouses can only receive benefits depending on the length of service from 2005, the date of civil partnerships legislation.

Gay clergy may enter a civil partnership as long as they promise to remain celibate. Since the Civil Partnerships Act came into law, an estimated 200 gay clergy members have tied the knot.

Critics were concerned the move would cost the church millions, as its pension scheme is already in financial trouble. It had a deficit of £350 million by the end of 2008.

The motion was submitted by Reverend Mark Bratton, from Coventry, who argued the current situation was an “injustice”.

Simon Baynes, a lay member from St Albans, used the example of the Rev Jeffrey John as an example to argue for the move.

Rev John was forced to turn down the post of Bishop of Reading in 2003 because he feared his homosexuality would “damage” the union of the church.

Mr Baynes said: “If Jeffrey died, his partner of over 30 years would receive £3,370 per annum.

“But if, instead of being in a partnership for 30 years, Jeffrey had been married for just a few days before he died, his widow would receive £7,550 per annum.”

A similar motion from conservative evangelicals which proposed giving pension rights to siblings who had cared for clergy members was rejected.