A FERNDOWN church has defended its use of a poster that speaks out against gay marriage after a local outcry.

The fluorescent green poster outside St Mary’s features the words ‘Marriage = 1 Man + 1 Woman’, and some have condemned the work as a “stunt” to spark debate.

But the rector, Rev Martin Howard, said all are welcome and loved at the church.

“In displaying our recent poster we have wanted to state from a Christian viewpoint the traditional teaching of the Bible, and the wisdom of the ages, that society is much stronger when marriage is promoted, honoured and protected,” he said.

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“The Government has no mandate to change the definition of marriage, and civil partnerships already give equal rights to same-sex couples.

"Changing the law would leave clergy like me open to charges of discrimination if I refused on principle to take a same sex wedding. Is that really the tolerant society we want to create?”

He said he believes that in cases where countries have redefined marriage, it has weakened the institution, and added: “In displaying our poster, we hope marriage as we have received it will be maintained.

“We believe it is for the good of society as a whole that Christian values in relation to marriage continue to be promoted, honoured and protected.”

However, 21-year-old single mum Emily Sargeant said she was offended by the poster.

She said: “I am doing my best to bring my daughter up to love people for who they are, and respect everyone, not only despite their differences, but because of them.

“I believe it is irresponsible to promote such an outdated belief that completely conflicts with the values that are being taught to people in schools today.

"We live in a society where people are still being made miserable due to people’s prejudices about homosexuality, which are being fuelled by such signs.”

She said the church has a responsibility to the community, and added: “I believe that as an institution that people look to for moral guidance, the church has a strong responsibility to consider more carefully the messages it decides to promote.”

MPs are to vote today on the introduction of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which would allow same-sex couples to get married in civil and religious ceremonies in England and Wales - except for the Church of England, where vicars will not be allowed to conduct such weddings even if they wish to.

The exemption is designed to protect clerics who believe same sex marriage is wrong, and is a special case because the Church of England has a common law obligation to marry any couple that asks for a ceremony.

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