The new Bishop of Salisbury, The Rt Revd Nick Holtam, has spoken out in support of gay marriage.

Bishop Holtam made the comments in an interview with the Times today ahead of the meeting of the General Synod next week, where civil partnerships in churches and equal marriage are to be discussed.

He said: “We are living in a different society. If there’s a gay couple in The Archers, if there’s that form of public recognition in popular soaps, we are dealing with something which has got common currency. All of us have friends, families, relatives, neighbours who are, or who know someone, in same-sex partnerships.”

He said he was “no longer convinced” marriage should be between a man and a woman.

Bishop Holtam, who is married with four children, was installed in Salisbury in October last year, after having been the vicar of St Martin in the Fields in central London.

He continued: “I think same-sex couples that I know who have formed a partnership have in many respects a relationship which is similar to a marriage and which I now think of as marriage.

“And of course now you can’t really say that a marriage is defined by the possibility of having children. Contraception created a barrier in that line of argument. Would you say that an infertile couple who were knowingly infertile when they got married, weren’t in a proper marriage? No you wouldn’t.”

Bishop Holtam acknowledged the importance the Church has given to marriage producing children, but said he saw perception changing, and argued that children could not be “the single defining criteria” of marriage.

Earlier this month, the Very Rev Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans, said he would consider suing the Church over its decisions not to promote him to bishop.

The 58-year-old, was forced to give up his appointment as Bishop of Reading in 2003 due to his relationship with another priest and was blocked from the post Bishop of Southwark in 2010, a position Bishop Holtam was also considered for. It is now held by The Rt Revd Christopher Chessun.

A memo leaked by Colin Slee, the late Dean of Southwark Cathedral made the claim that there were already several gay bishops who had “been less than candid about their domestic arrangements and who, in a conspiracy of silence, have been appointed to senior positions”.

It added: “This situation cannot endure. Exposure of the reality would be nuclear.”