HUNDREDS of people are expected to attend a protest outside York Minster against comments made by the Archbishop of York about gay marriage.

The protest is in reaction to an interview given by Dr John Sentamu, the second most senior Church of England cleric, in which he told the Daily Telegraph that marriage must be between a man and a woman.

Dr Sentamu, currently abroad, said he supported civil partnerships but said it was not for the Government to overturn history and to redefine “clear social structures” by allowing gay marriage.

His comments have angered some campaigners in the city who have said they are extremely disappointed by the Archbishop’s stance against a “vital equality reform”.

Protesters are due to gather for a peaceful two-hour protest at 1pm on Wednesday outside the Minster.

Cem Turhan, LGBT officer at the University of York who has organised the protest, said: “I was a bit shocked by what he said because obviously Sentamu champions minorities. For this to come out seems shocking and upsetting.

“For everyone to be equal, everyone should be allowed to be with the person they love and want to share their life with.

“Governments have changed social structures time and time again. Traditions are always changed by Governments and that’s the great thing, that means we can look forward. I think to deny anyone the chance to marry the person they love is really unfair.

“I want everyone in York to attend – everyone should show support for one another.”

Dr Sentamu’s remarks provoked controversy after he told the Telegraph that it was not the role of government to “gift” the institution of marriage to anyone and that “dictators” tried to overturn history and redefine marriage.

He said: “If you genuinely would like the registration of civil partnerships to happen in a more general way, most people will say they can see the drift. But if you begin to call those marriage, you’re trying to change the English language.

“That does not mean you diminish, condemn, criticise, patronise any same-sex relationships because that is not what the debate is about.”

Dr Sentamu was unable to comment on the protest. He is currently in Jamaica. He is expected to return to York late on Wednesday, his spokesman said.

Among the messages of support on the Facebook page, Protest For Marriage Equality At York Minster, one person has written that changing the English language was “the aim”.

Prime Minister David Cameron said last year that he supported gay marriage. A Government consultation on the issue will open in March and Mr Cameron has indicated he wants the process to be a significant part of his time in office.

Mr Turhan said while the majority of protesters were currently expected to come from York, a contingent from Leeds University was expected to attend and a French campaigner was also urging people from across Britain to attend.

A spokesman for the Minster confirmed they were aware of the protest and said services would not be disrupted.

A police spokesman said North Yorkshire Police was aware of the planned protest.

York Press: The Press - Comment

Protesters now to have their say

THE Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, has been a breath of fresh air since taking on the job in 2005.

He has often had the courage to say things other leaders wouldn’t dare: urging us not to be afraid to celebrate being English, or saying he wished he belonged to a society that treated its vulnerable people with respect.

His comments on gay marriage have landed him in hotter water than even he may be comfortable with, however.

Marriage can only be between a man and a woman, he said. The Church did not oppose civil partnerships between same-sex couples. “But if you begin to call those marriage, you're trying to change the English language.”

He then went even further, responding to Prime Minister David Cameron’s support for gay marriage by saying it was not the role of the state to define marriage – and that only dictators would try to do so.

His comments have come as a shock to those who have regarded the archbishop as being traditionally on the side of minorities and the vulnerable. Hundreds of people are expected to take part in a protest at York Minster tomorrow.

“For everyone to be equal, everyone should be allowed to be with the person they love,” said protest organiser Cem Turham.

The archbishop went out of his way to stress that the church supports civil partnerships, so he would presumably not disagree with Mr Turham. Nevertheless, it is understandable that many gay, lesbian or bisexual people may have felt that their loving partnerships were in some way diminished by what he said.

It is a sign of the strength of our democracy that they will be able to air their views at The Minster tomorrow, just as the archbishop was able to express his own.