UK church holds first gay wedding

(Photo: Metropolitan Community Church)Rev Morgan, who officiated the ceremony, believes "God blesses the love of two people no matter what their gender"

As the same-sex marriage debate intensifies, a lesbian couple from Dorset have said their vows in a ceremony thought to be the first to be held in a UK church on Saturday.

Jan Tipper and Barb Burden, committed Christians who have been attending the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in Bournemouth for the past 15 years, say they are delighted to have been given the right to officially marry in their place of worship.

"To get married in our church was very significant to us. Even though we have been together for almost 19 years it didn't feel right for us to have just a blessing or even a civil partnership," Jan says.

"We have hoped for years for the opportunity to legally marry and once it became possible we knew it was time for us to tie the knot and to do it before God in our church with our friends and family."

A law allowing same-sex couples to wed took effect on March 29 of this year, although legislation protects religious groups including the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church from facing legal action if they choose not to conduct gay marriages.

In February, the House of Bishops issued guidelines forbidding bishops, clergy and laity in the Church of England from entering into same-sex marriage, stating that although opinions vary, "It would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same-sex marriage, given the need for clergy to model the Church's teaching in their lives."

The Pastoral Guidance on Same-Sex Marriage also notes that: "We are all in agreement that the Christian understanding and doctrine of marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman remains unchanged."

Anglican Canon Jeremy Pemberton has already defied this ruling, however, also marrying his partner Laurence in a hotel ceremony on Saturday. He now faces disciplinary action from the Church.

As an independent church, MCC is free to conduct gay marriages and is the first UK church to have completed the legal registration requirements to hold the ceremonies. "We offer full legal marriages for relationships of both same-sex and opposite-sex partners," its website reads.

"All of the services that we perform have religious significance and we consider them to be blessed by a loving and caring God.

"At Metropolitan Community Church we're passionate about following Jesus, serious about the Bible, genuinely diverse, and open-minded. You will find a warm welcome whoever you are - straight or gay, conservative or liberal, old or young, rich or poor, married or single, all gender identities, any race or nationality. We are a rainbow congregation!"

Reverand Dwayne Morgan, who married Jan and Barb, has labelled the ceremony "historic", and expressed his pleasure at having been part of the occasion.

"We have been offering wedding services for same-sex couples for many years in our church because we believe that God blesses the love of two people no matter what their gender," he told The Telegraph.

"To finally have the government fully recognise their love by giving them complete legal status as a married couple is a blessing for everyone. We are grateful to all those who have struggled for the rights of gay people for so many years that has led us to this historic day.

"We do our best to get the word out that while many of Jesus' followers discriminate, Jesus himself does not."