The Government has promised that no church will be forced to conduct a gay wedding under planned legislation for same-sex marriage.
Setting out the Government's plans in her capacity as Equalities Minister, Maria Miller said yesterday that she was putting in place three levels of legal protections for religious organisations and a fourth - a "quadruple legal lock" - to protect the Church of England and Church in Wales.
They include amending the Equality Act 2010 to ensure that no discrimination claims can be brought against Churches or ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple or allowing their premises to be used for that purpose.
The plans were immediately condemned by Archbishop Vincent Nichols and Archbishop Peter Smith, the president and vice-president of the bishops' conference. They criticised the Government for not counting as part of its "consultation" the Coalition for Marriage e-petition which attracted some 620,000 signatures.
"The Government has chosen to ignore the views of over 600,000 people who signed a petition calling for the current definition of marriage to stay," they said.
They said the process by which the legislation had reached Parliament - without mention in any electoral manifesto or the Queen's Speech and with "no serious or thorough consultation" - "can only be described as shambolic".