A vicar from the Dagenham suburb of London has claimed that equal marriage is a sin, and that people can be “cured from being gay.

The remarks made by Reverend Steven Hanna from St Elisabeth’s church in Becontree made the remarks following the release of a letter which was signed by 21 leaders of Barking and Dagenham Churches.

The letter voiced opposition to equal marriage, said that it went against “God’s word”, and that politicians and government should not be “promoting” marriage equality.

Speaking to the Barking and Dagenham Post, Reverend Hanna said: “I am not saying that being gay is a sin. I am saying gay practice is a sin and gay marriage is a sin.

“There is a difference between having gay thoughts and performing gay practice. I can have adulterous thoughts and yet not commit adultery. People can be cured from being gay. Not everyone is but everyone can be.”

The letter released by the 21 church leaders reads: “We believe marriage to be holy matrimony between a man and a woman. We believe that civil partnerships and gay marriage are not holy and are against God’s word. We believe that church leaders, politicians and government ought not to be promoting them and that to do so will bring God’s judgment upon us.

It continues: “Jesus spoke tough truths yet was still able to love people. We urge all churches and Christians to do the same in the knowledge that there is transforming grace and forgiveness.”

Reverend Hanna also defended the letter against suggestions that it was anti gay. He said:“It is not against the gays. God loves the sinner but hates the sin. It is like me saying murder is a sin, but the murderer can be helped. With God you don’t have to live like that. Jesus is the friend of sinners because he wants to help us not sin.”

In February, MPs in the British Parliament voted in favour of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill by 400 to 175, a majority of 225.

The bill is currently receiving greater parliamentary scrutiny – after the Commons committee has completed its work – the bill will then be subjected to another vote (third reading) by MPs and it will then undergo a similar process of approval in the House of Lords.

Clause 1 of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill passed committee stage 13 votes to 4, and is being considered by the Public Bills Committee in the House of Commons.