The new Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in London has called on the Church of England to embrace gay couples who wish to marry, calling marriage the ‘best pattern for how to flourish […] gay or straight’.

The Very Revd David Ison was formally appointed this week by the Queen to replace the Rt Rev Graeme Knowles who stood down following the row over the Occupy movement’s camp outside the cathedral.

In an interview with The Times today the new dean, a married grandfather, has weighed into the debate on whether gay couples should be allowed to marry, saying the institution does not “belong” to the Church of England.

He told the paper: “We need to take seriously people’s desire for partnership and make sure that the virtues that you see in married relationships are available to people who are gay.”

It was, he said, a problem of “word definition”, saying it would be better to refer to a “Christian marriage” than to a gay or straight one.

He added: “You can regard two Christian gay people as wanting to have the virtues of Christian marriage.”

In his former position as Dean of Bradford, he performed informal ceremonies for gay couples’ partnerships and he told The Times he would willingly do the same at St Paul’s.

He said: “As a Christian who is committed to marriage, I would say that for people to take on board, in their relationships, a commitment to lifelong chastity and being together is actually the best pattern for how to flourish if you’re going to be in a relationship . . . whether you’re gay or straight.

“I’m encouraged that a good number of gay people want to take on the virtues of marriage. For Christian gay people to model that kind of faithfulness, in a culture which, historically, has often been about promiscuity, is a very good thing to do.”

Opining that “justice and poverty” should be the primary concern of the faithful, he also said marriage “does not belong to the Church”.

The Very Rev David Ison was officially appointed by the Queen earlier this week.

The Reverend Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor and Canon in Residence, had said of his appointment: “The Chapter and the whole cathedral community, with David at the helm, will continue to make St Paul’s a focus for Christian ministry and speak of the many things that matter to people across London and beyond.”

In a speech in Geneva last month, the Primate of the Church of England the Archbishop of Canterbury said laws should restrict discrimination against gays and other minorities but should not be used to actively ‘promote change’ within a culture on issues like marriage.

The Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu prompted a protest outside his cathedral after suggesting the prime minister was behaving like a “dictator” in his support for gay civil marriages, which religions would not be forced to hold.

The Church has said it is “opposed to all forms of homophobia and would want to defend the civil liberties of homosexual people, and to welcome them into our churches” but that it “believes on the basis of Bible and tradition that marriage is between a man and a woman and does not accept that this needs to change”.