The Church of England has criticised David Cameron’s support for allowing faith organisations to provide marriages for gay couples.

Earlier on Friday afternoon, the PM stressed that churches would not be forced into conducting the ceremonies as part of the government’s policy. 

In a statement, the church said: “It is important to be clear that insistence on the traditional understanding of marriage is not knee-jerk resistance to change but is based on a conviction that the consequences of change will not be beneficial for society as a whole.

“Our concern is for the way the meaning of marriage will change for everyone, gay or straight, if the proposals are enacted”.

The church went on to say: “The uniqueness of marriage is that it embodies the underlying, objective, distinctiveness of men and women. This distinctiveness and complementarity are seen most explicitly in the biological union of man and woman, which potentially brings to the relationship the fruitfulness of procreation.

“To remove from the definition of marriage this essential complementarity is to lose any social institution in which sexual difference is explicitly acknowledged”.

Last month, the Bishop of Durham Justin Welby, who has been appointed to succeed Dr Rowan Williams as the new Archbishop of Canterbury, said the church must have “no truck with any form of homophobia”.

Although Dr Welby has previously stated his opposition to equal marriage and the ordination of gay bishops, in a speech at Lambeth Palace he signalled that he was willing to engage on LGBT issues concerning the church.

In September, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, admitted the Church of England’s attitude to gay relationships had often been harmful to people on the receiving end of its message.

Earlier this year, the UK’s most senior Catholic leader, Cardinal Keith O’Brien described the measure as “grotesque”.

In September, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey also warned that equal marriage would pave the way for Mormon-style polygamous relationships.