Senior clergy in the Church of England called today to lift the ban on gay couples having civil partnerships in church.

In a letter to The Times, faith leaders including the Bishop of Salisbury, the Dean of Southwark and five retired bishops said that it was inconsistent and discriminatory to ban gay couples having their ceremonies in churches willing to accommodate them.

They cited three faiths – Liberal Judaism, the Quakers and the Unitarians – who wish to hold civil partnership ceremonies.

The Civil Partnerships Act 2004 explicitly bans any faith from holding civil partnership ceremonies. They must be held in approved premises which are not used for religious ceremonies and cannot contain religious language.

Last month, out gay peer Lord Waheed Alli tabled an amendment to the Equality Bill to remove these restrictions. It was debated and gained the support of peers, although the Bishops of Winchester and Chichester opposed it.

The letter said: “It is inconsistent to affirm the spiritual independence of the Church of England and simultaneously to deny the spiritual independence of the three small communities who seek this change for themselves (and not for anybody else).”

It continued: “Straight couples have the choice between civil marriage and religious marriage. Gay couples are denied a similar choice. To deny people of faith the opportunity of registering the most important promise of their lives in their willing church or synagogue, according to its liturgy, is plainly discriminatory.”

Lord Alli is to present the amendment again on March 2nd and the letter called for bishops in the House of Lords to support it.

The letter said: “We urge every peer who believes in spiritual independence, or in non-discrimination, to support it.”