Peter Tatchell has called on priests and congregations to reject the Church of England’s ban on civil partnerships in their churches, as new regulations allowing the ceremonies to take place on religious ground come into effect.

The Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) (Amendment) Regulations 2011 come into force today, and lift the ban on places of religious worship holding civil partnership ceremonies.

In a document issued last week, William Fittall, Secretary General, said “no Church of England religious premises may become ‘approved premises’ for the registration of civil partnerships without there having been a formal decision by the General Synod to that effect.”

Peter Tatchell, coordinator of the Equal Love campaign, said: “I urge individual priests and their congregations to defy this harsh, intolerant ruling.

“They should go ahead with same-sex civil partnerships, if they want to. This autocratic decision should be defied. It doesn’t deserve respect or compliance.

“Many grassroots Anglicans reject this homophobic ruling by the church leadership. They support hosting same-sex civil partnerships in religious premises. The Church of England top brass is out of touch.

“The Anglican leadership has said the ban will apply unless permission is granted by the General Synod. Given that permission is inconceivable for the foreseeable future, this is an effective total ban.

“There are some local parishes that want to conduct civil partnerships. They’d be happy to host the civil partnership ceremonies of their gay and lesbian congregants. That’s why senior church officials are making this ruling, to pre-empt willing local churches from going ahead with civil partnerships ceremonies.

Mr Tatchell said the Church leadership was acting in a way which was “dictatorial and homophobic”.

He called for action from parishes which do want to host civil partnership ceremonies, saying: “While no one is suggesting that churches should be forced to conduct civil partnerships against their wishes, local parishes that want to host civil partnerships should be free to do so. If senior Anglicans say they can’t, the individual churches should go ahead anyway”.