Evangelicals are calling upon the Methodist Church to uphold a traditional understanding of marriage after a new report recommended that it open up its chapels to same-sex weddings.
The current Methodist Church position on marriage is set out in Standing Order 011A (1), which states: "The Methodist Church believes that marriage is a gift of God and that it is God's intention that a marriage should be a life-long union in body, mind and spirit of one man and one woman."
On Tuesday, the Methodist Church's Marriage and Relationships Task Group released a report recommending that this position be changed.
'God in Love Unites Us' argues that the Church's current definition is no longer suitable in light of the changing way in which society views same-sex relationships, with civil partnerships and gay marriage both being legalised in the last 15 years and the Government moving to broaden civil partnerships to heterosexual couples.
The task group says not ministers will not be compelled to officiate at a same-sex marriage in their church if it goes against their beliefs, but that the Church should move to introduce new orders of service for gay couples looking to marry in church or have an existing union blessed.
The document states: "Reflecting on this matter, the Task Group urges the Conference to affirm in due course those who enter mixed-sex civil partnerships, just as it has affirmed those who enter same-sex civil partnerships.
"Where it is appropriate, we would then welcome it if the relationship that has led a couple to enter a partnership were to strengthen further and bring them to seek marriage as the Church understands it.
"That said, where couples are open and receptive to the possibility of discerning God's love present in what has brought them to form their partnership, and where real pastoral need exists for not simply offering the couple an opportunity to marry in church, we believe it would be appropriate for the Church to offer thanks for and bless such partnerships on its premises.
"This would require developing and offering appropriate forms of prayer and orders of service."
Methodist Evangelicals Together, which describes itself as a "renewal movement" in the Church, has responded to the report by calling for the current definition of marriage to be maintained.
The group said in a statement: "Methodist Evangelicals Together continues to be committed to the Wesleyan convictions that the gospel is for all, that the Bible is our supreme rule of faith and practice, and that all Christians are called to holiness.
"We therefore uphold the biblical understanding of marriage as the life-long union of one man and one woman, and call upon the Church to do the same.
"We are carefully studying the report, noting that it is intended as a discussion starter rather than reaching definitive conclusions."
If the report is commended by the Methodist Church Conference taking place at the end of June, it will be presented to regional synods for more debate from September onwards before a vote next spring and a final vote at Conference 2020.