A TOWN centre church has become the first in Bolton to be licensed to perform same sex civil partnership ceremonies.

Bank Street Unitarian Chapel is only the second church in Greater Manchester and one of only about 20 in the country that has applied to be allowed to perform the ceremonies for gay couples since the law was changed last year.

Stephen Lingwood, the church’s minister, pictured, said being granted the licence was a justice that should be celebrated.

He said: “Unitarians have been fighting for gay rights for decades. Our faith is all about equality.

“This year our congregation agreed that we want to treat all couples equally as far as the law allows.

“One day I hope we will be able to perform same sex marriages in exactly the same way we perform different sex marriages but right now the law bans that.

It’s a good step forward that we can now have civil partnerships.

The arrangements for civil partnerships are quite different to marriage, but it is step in the right direction.”

The church’s committee decided to apply for the licence in March to ensure all couples could be treated equally.

No civil ceremonies have been booked in yet, but the church hopes it will attract couples from Bolton and out of the area.

Mr Lingwood, who has been at the church for four years, said: “If people go to a registry office or a hotel they aren’t allowed any prayers but if the religious part is important to them then people now have the opportunity. We see it as an issue of justice that we want to celebrate the love of two people whoever they will be.”

He said having the licence for three years costs £250, but the fee was irrelevant because obtaining it was important to the church.

Civil partnership ceremonies and weddings will be charged at the same rate.

Ullet Road Unitarian Church, in Liverpool, was the first in the country to hold such a service last May.

The legislation allowing civil ceremonies was announced in December last year following public consultation, but plans were first announced in February last year. Cross Street Unitarian Chapel in Manchester is believed to be the only other licensed church in Greater Manchester.

Conservative MP David Davies, who represents Monmouth, sparked outrage during a discussion about gay marriage yesterday after he claimed most parents do not want their children to be homosexual — because they want grandchildren.

His comments were in opposition to the government’s plans to allow gay marriage. Legislation is expected to come into force next year. If it goes ahead, the Government will treat marriages between same-sex couples as the marriage between a man and a woman.

Currently civil partnership have the same legal treatment as marriage in matters such as inheritance, life assurance, child maintenance, pensions and nextof- kin and emigration rights.

Opposite sex couples can choose between a religious or civil marriage cereony, whereas a same sex partnership is an exclusively civil procedure.