The outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has questioned the government’s mandate for the introduction of equal marriage rights between gay and straight couples.

Dr Williams said the issue had been raised with the Home Office but noted the move now has support from across the three main political parties, the Telegraph reports.

At a General Synod meeting in York this weekend, the Church’s governing body asked the archbishop what discussions had been undertaken between the government and the Church.

Dr Williams said: “Following the Prime Minister’s announcement last autumn there have already been several formal and informal discussions with a number of Government ministers, including the Home Secretary.

“There have also been discussions between Home Office and Church House officials.”

He added: “The basis of the mandate for changing the state’s understanding of marriage given the lack of any commitment in the election manifestos of the main parties has been one of the many issues raised in those discussions.”

Dr Williams, who will stand down as Archbishop later this year, said it would be “reasonable to infer” that he agreed with one Synod member’s suggestion that he “does not accept that the Government has a mandate to make these changes”.

But he added: “It is only right to note, however, that same sex-marriage now has the official support of all three main parties.”

Before the 2010 general election, the Conservative party’s election manifesto said if it gained power it would “consider the case for for changing the law to allow civil partnerships to be called and classified as marriage.”

At a teenage Christian discussion day last month called ‘My Friends Think I’m Mad’, the Archbishop directly addressed the issue of marriage rights for gay couples as one of a “lot of tangles” between traditionalists and progressive thinkers in the Church.

He told the group of the ‘frustration’ felt about those Christians whose ‘embarrassment, shame and disgust’ over equal marriage rights for gay couples are sending out ‘unwelcome’ messages.

He said of equal marriage rights for gay couples that “where once more we’re used to being alongside people who are gay; many of our friends may be – indeed we may be – wrestling with that issue ourselves, and the Church is scratching its head and trying to work out where it is on all that, and what to think about it.

“What’s frustrating is that we still have Christian people whose feelings about it are so strong, and sometimes so embarrassed and ashamed and disgusted, that that just sends out a message of unwelcome, of lack of understanding, of lack of patience.

“So whatever we think about it, we need, as a Church, to be tackling what we feel about it.”