The House of Lords has approved an amendment to the Equality Bill giving gay couples the right to have civil partnerships in church.

The measure, proposed by out gay peer Lord Waheed Alli, was passed 95 votes to 21, a majority of 74. A free vote was allowed.

It gives churches the option of hosting civil partnership ceremonies if they wish and is not compulsory. Under current law, civil partnerships may not contain any religious references.

The change means they can be held in churches and other religious buildings, and may contain religious language.

Faiths such as Liberal Judaism, the Quakers and the Unitarians have all expressed their wishes to hold civil partnership ceremonies.

PinkNews.co.uk first revealed plans to change the law in November.

Introducing the amendment last night, Lord Alli said: “Many gay and lesbian couples want to share their civil partnerships with the congregations with whom they worship, and a number of religious organisations want to allow gay and lesbian couples to do exactly that.

“I believe that people want religion in their lives and many gay and lesbian couples are no different. They want their civil partnership to be held in a place where they can celebrate it with the people with whom they worship.

“It is a simple act of religious freedom to allow the Quakers, the liberal Jews, the Unitarian Church and others to practise their religion in a way that meets their religious needs.”

Late last month, faith leaders including the Bishop of Salisbury, the Dean of Southwark and five retired bishops wrote to the Times to argue that it was inconsistent and discriminatory to ban gay couples having their ceremonies in churches willing to accommodate them.

Those who voted against the measure last night included the Bishop of Bradford David James and former Conservative cabinet ministers Lord Tebbit and Lord Waddington.

Supporters had argued that changing the law was an important move for religious freedom. It has yet to be approved by the House of Commons but MPs are unlikely to oppose it.

The amendment was supported by Stonewall.

Chief executive Ben Summerskill said: “We’ve argued throughout that this is an important matter of religious freedom. Ministers have known for some months that we intended to table this measure and we regret that the government didn’t stand up to the bullying it faced from some churches on this issue.

“We’ll now work closely with ministers to ensure that we secure implementation of this further step towards equality. This vote is hugely important to those gay people of faith (and, as Lady Neuberger pointed out, to their Jewish mothers too!) who wish to celebrate their civil partnerships in their own place of worship.”

Peter Tatchell said: “The Quakers, Unitarians, Metropolitan Community Church and liberal synagogues wish to conduct civil partnership ceremonies and should be allowed to do so.

“Following a change in the law, we expect civil partnerships will be conducted by gay-affirmative religions, including the Unitarians and Quakers, and some Anglican churches and liberal synagogues.

“Our next goal is to secure marriage equality, to end the prohibition on lesbian and gay couples having a civil marriage in a registry office.”

LGBT Labour’s co-chair Katie Hanson, who backed the amendment on behalf of the group earlier this week, said: “We are proud that Labour’s Lord Alli has been pushing for this change in the law, and this vote is a great result.”