A Baptist minister has said that individual Baptist churches should have the freedom to carry out same-sex partnership ceremonies if they decide it is right to do so.
Andrew Kleissner, a minister in Ipswich, has made the comments following government plans to implement a change in the law that allows religious elements in civil partnerships.
The Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB) does not currently allow ministers to bless same-sex partnerships. But writing in this week's Baptist Times, Kleissner suggested that the BUGB should allow its member churches to make up their own minds on the issue.
Andrew Kleissner is minister at Christ Church in Ipswich, a joint United Reformed and Baptist Church.
He made clear his own willingness to bless same-sex relationships, as well as his respect for those who take a different view. But he also argued for the change on the grounds of the traditional Baptist principle of autonomy for local churches.
"Civil partnerships - some of them between professing Christians - are not only a legal reality but are becoming more common," wrote Kleissner, "Our refusal to countenance or bless them sends a very strong message of rejection to anyone who may come asking for God's blessing upon them".
Last year's Equality Act changed the law to allow civil partnership ceremonies to take place in religious premises. The government recently made clear that this change would soon be implemented.
The change would be entirely voluntary, as the Act makes clear that no faith group will be obliged to celebrate same-sex partnerships if they do not believe in them.
Several denominations have already said that they are likely to make use of the legislation. They include the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, the Metropolitan Community Church and Liberal Judaism.
Others, including the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, have said they will not hold such ceremonies.
The Methodist Church have said that they will not carry out same-sex ceremonies themselves but that they do not object to a change in the law. The United Reformed Church plans to debate the issue at its General Assembly next year.
Kleissner insisted that Baptists are "a denomination in which individual churches pride themselves on our autonomy".
He went on, "Why cannot the Union offer some pointers for theological reflection on this matter and then leave ministers and churches to come to their own decisions? This strikes me as a much more authentically 'Baptist' way of going about things."
He explained, "My understanding of this matter has radically changed over the past few years and, although I still struggle with some aspects of gay and lesbian relationships, I have come to the conclusion that I prefer to see people living in committed partnerships".
Kleissner emphasised that no minister or church should feel obliged to bless partnerships in which they do not believe.
"I appreciate that there are a range of views on this matter," he explained, "And it could well be - as is the case in some other denominations - that we need to live in loving disagreement".
He concluded, "What I am asking for is the freedom to decide where I stand, and then to act accordingly. For we do not live under God's law, but the freedom of his grace."