The US Southern Baptist Convention has adopted a resolution at its annual conference criticising marriage equality advocates who have adopted the ‘rhetoric of the civil rights movement’ and drawn comparisons between discrimination against gay couples and racism.

The Convention, which has over 16 million members and is the largest Christian body in the US after the Catholic Church, yesterday voted in its first African-American president.

The resolution said that homosexuality “does not present the distinguishing features of classes entitled to special protections, like the classes of race and gender” so they remain opposed to “any attempt to frame ‘same-sex marriage’ as a civil rights issue”.

However, the Southern Baptists resolved “to acknowledge the unique struggles experienced by homosexuals in some parts of society”.

While homosexuality “does not qualify as a class meriting special protections” and so the campaign to legalise gay marriage is not a civil rights issue, it expressed “love to those who struggle with same-sex attraction and who are engaged in the homosexual lifestyle”.

The resolution also refers to marriage between gay couples as “same-sex marriage” in quotation marks throughout.

The annual conference similarly saw the denomination pass a resolution calling for the Defense of Marriage Act, the law which forbids the recognition of gay marriages at federal level, to remain unchallenged and be “vigorously defended” by the Justice Department.

The Rev. Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, was reported by the Washington Post as saying it was “important to sound the alarm again, because the culture is changing”.

The comparison between gay and racial equality was “unfair” because, he said, there was not evidence that sexual orientation was as unchangeable as skin colour. He said: “They’re equating their sin with my skin.”

The resolution added that the Southern Baptists were “against any form of gay-bashing, whether disrespectful attitudes, hateful rhetoric, or hate-incited actions toward persons who engage in acts of homosexuality”.