The Catholic Church is to allow gay couples to marry in the UK, in a step that has outraged many.
The UK Church, which has traditionally supported same-sex marriage, will recognise civil unions if a couple can prove they were married in their country of residence.
But many gay Catholics fear the change will be a blow to their religious beliefs.
The bishops of England and Wales said on Monday that they would not be changing the policy on civil unions, saying they would “not accept the redefinition of marriage”.
The move will be welcomed by many gay Christians and their supporters who fear the church will be used as a tool by politicians to push their own religious views.
The bishops also said they would accept civil unions of people who are not Catholic. “
The Church must therefore respect the dignity of the human person, the dignity and equality of everyone, including gay and lesbian people.”
The bishops also said they would accept civil unions of people who are not Catholic.
A spokesman said the move was a “step in the right direction” and would not change church teachings.
“This is a step in the wrong direction, it does not take into account the wishes of those people who want to marry who do not subscribe to the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage,” the spokesman said.
Gay rights campaigners welcomed the decision.
“We’re very happy that the Archbishop of York is now going to recognise civil partnerships in the same way as gay marriages,” said Brian Harkin, the president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).
“It’s an important step forward for our rights.
We hope the bishops will go further, as well.”
Gay rights group Stonewall said the change was “huge”.
“It shows that the Church is not going to be a punching bag when it comes to social issues,” it said.
“A Catholic bishop has been asked to recognise a civil partnership and it is the first step in that direction.”