The Methodist church could soon allow equal marriage, and become the first Christian denomination to do so after launching a consultation on the issue.
A full consultation of its more than 5,000 congregations across Britain are being asked to take part in the exercise which includes questions around changing the official teachings on same-sex marriage.
Members of the church have been given up until February to express their views on the issue, before findings are put to the Methodist Conference, which makes decisions on behalf of the church.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act for England and Wales, which will come into effect in 2014, specifies that religious groups can opt-out if they do not wish to perform same-sex marriages.
The Anglican and Catholic churches are opposed, but the Unitarian and Quakers have said they will perform same-sex weddings.
A working group for the Church of England, however, has just recommended that the church begin to offer blessings for married same-sex couples.
The Telegraph reports that a legal issue may be raised for the Church of England, as it works closely with the Methodist Church on a local level including sharing buildings and some congregations are partially merged.
The same-sex marriage legislation, however, includes a quadruple lock to ensure that no religious organisation would be made to perform or approve of equal marriage, unless it opts in, and the Church of England was exempt entirely.
Across Britain there are around 230,000 members of the Methodist Church.It currently teachers that marriage is a “gift of God”, and “a lifelong union in body, mind and spirit of one man and one woman”, however a consultation paper published by the church says it is “at odds” with the law due to come into force soon.
Susan Howdle, chairman of the Methodist church’s same sex marriage and civil partnership working party told the Telegraph: “We do urge as many Methodists as possible to respond, thoughtfully and prayerfully, to the consultation in order to help us to gauge the mind of the Church.
“We hope the timescale will allow at least some of the responses to be from groups who have met for discussion, but individual responses are equally welcome.”
Yesterday the Church of England published a report on “human sexuality” which noted a tension between the church and contemporary culture, but which recommends that same-sex marriages and civil partnerships should be blessed, and that homophobia should be tackled across the church.
The Pilling report, which was headed by Sir Joseph Pilling, recommended that gay civil partnerships and marriages could be blessed by the Church of England, that homophobia should be tackled in and around the church, and that there should be greater understanding from both sides of the argument around issues such as equal marriage.