In a new editorial, The Times has said the Church of England’s stance on equal gay rights is not ‘brave’, but a ‘demeaning, unconscionable and ultimately futile defence of injustice’.

The Times came out in favour of equal marriage rights in an editorial on the matter last week.

Despite “criticism from clerical and political opponents”, the paper said the prime minister’s position is “right” and equality would be a “just and wise reform”.

Writing after the gay Dean of St Albans Dr Jeffrey John said the perception of the Church of England as “enemy number one” of the gay community was “a disaster”, the paper has written directly on the denomination’s views.

It says: “[Dr John’s] comment bears no trace of personal bitterness. He merely states a dispiriting fact about an institution to which he is devoted.

“The Church’s divergence from modern mores on gay rights is not a brave prophetic stand against the spirit of the age. It is a demeaning, unconscionable and ultimately futile defence of injustice, which it is long past time to abandon.”

It says issues raised by the fact that Dr John was passed over for an episcopate for publicly being in a celibate civil partnership go “far wider than the fortunes of one man”.

The editorial continues: “Stable, loving gay relationships are no affliction or personal failing. They are a fact of national life, for homosexuals will not again go into hiding, and they enrich the society of which they are an integral part.

“Legislation in 2004 to allow civil partnerships for same-sex couples was not an act of charity.”

It concludes that the Archbishop of Canterbury “should recognise that gay rights are no longer, if they ever were, an issue on which reasonable people will naturally differ”.

It says: “They are a matter of human dignity. The State has no business prescribing the content of Christian doctrine; but it has an obligation to enact the social contract, of equality under the law, that binds its citizens. That principle implies full homosexual equality for the same reason that it led in earlier generations to the rights of women to own property and to vote.”