It could take 10 years for same-sex marriages to be approved by the Church of England – that’s according to Dr Jeffrey John, the gay Dean of St Albans.

In July of this year, Dr John talked of his sadness in an Out4Marriage video at the COE’s refusal to support the government’s position on civil marriage equality.

Dr John has now told the BBC, that the COE will eventually have to welcome gay couples to the altar – despite its fierce opposition to equal marriage.

He said: “The prime minister wants to see same-sex marriage becoming legal by 2015 and I’m sure that will happen.

“I believe that before long we’ll see some kind of official services within the church to bless gay partnerships, but not same-sex marriages,” Dr John added: “I think that will come but it could take another 10 years. That’s how the church works, we’re always two steps behind everyone else.”

In his interview, Dr John compared the system of civil partnerships to the racist era of apartheid in South Africa and said: “The only purpose for apartheid was to ensure inequality existed between black and white people.

“In the same way, differentiating between heterosexual marriages and civil partnerships means that gay couples are being seen as inferior.

“It’s completely unacceptable,” he added.

Dr John has been with his partner, a Church of England hospital chaplain, for nearly 40 years and entered into a civil partnership in 2006.

He said: “I can testify that the covenant between two people of the same sex is exactly as it is for a marriage between a husband and wife – there is no difference.”

Dr John has been twice in line to become a bishop only to see his appointment repeatedly rejected amid criticism from social conservatives.

His sexuality was previously stated as a “difficulty” for the church’s leadership.

Earlier this month, a gay vicar in East Sussex was told that he could resume work at his local parish after officials tried to ban him over his refusal to confirm if he was in a celibate relationship.

Dr John’s relationship with his partner is said to be celibate.