GAY rights campaigners have hailed a church which has become one of only two in Bolton to offer same sex marriages.

Bank Street Unitarian Chapel has announced it will offer same sex marriages after being granted a licence by Bolton Council.

A council spokesman confirmed the Walmsley Unitarian Church was the first to receive a licence in October 2014 after the Government announced it would change the law.

Both churches have currently not held any same sex marriages.

The council said that 14 civil venues in Bolton were automatically given approval when the new law was passed, including at Mere Hall Registry Office, The Albert Halls, Holiday Inn Bolton Central, Georgian House, Silverwell Hall, Smithills Hall, Toby Carvery, Excellency Hall, Britannia Hotel, Bolton Whites Hotel, Bolton School, Last Drop Village Hotel, The Brinsop, Brookfield and Ridgmont House.

Stephen Lingwood, the minister at Bank Street, said: "It has been a long winded process with a lot of form filling but we are happy that we can now offer same sex marriages.

"For us as Unitarians, equality is a big part of what our faith is about, and it is the spiritual foundation of our religion.

"It is great to have that equality with the way we do marriage and that we can treat all couples equally now."

The minister said the church has already had an enquiry from a same sex couple, and that he hopes the church will have its first this summer.

He said: "There are not many places where same sex couples can get married where they can have a religious or spiritual element to their wedding, because you can't have prayers and such things in a secular venue.

"People can go to hotels if they like, but a lot of same sex couples are spiritual people so it is great they can be part of our ethos.

The minister also said that the church has not received any negative comments, but have been sent messages of congratulations.

He said: "I would be delighted if other churches followed us. I don't think anyone should be forced to have same sex marriages, they should be allowed freedom to choose.

"Hopefully other churches will follow, but realistically it could be decades or centuries before changes are made."

Lynne Cubbin, secretary of Walmsley Unitarian Church, added: "We have not any same sex marriages since we were given a licence, so it will be interesting to see if there is more interest after Bank Street was given a licence. We are here if people want to find us.

"Unitarians believe that everyone is important and it is all about equality, no-one is required to follow one specific creed. All weddings in our church don't follow any specific path."

Mark Geary, director of Bolton Pride, which organised its inaugural event in the town last summer, hailed the news.

He said: "I think it's great news that a church in Bolton has been granted a licence for same sex marriages.

"It's great for the town, it shows that we are moving forward and moving with the times, and at Bolton Pride we are fully supportive of them.

"Same sex marriage has been made legal and it is right that people are offering these services."

The Church of England recently caused controversy after church leaders condemned same sex marriages, saying marriage should be between "a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union".

Chris Bryant, a Labour MP and former Anglican cleric, said he was giving up on the church after the decision, saying "one day it will seem wrong as supporting slavery".

The Catholic church opposes same sex marriage, and says that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

Pope Francis recently reminded people of the church's opposition to gay marriage before a vote in Italy which could give legal recognition to homosexual couples.