Devizes vicar the Rev Colin Coward is delighted that the House of Commons overwhelmingly voted to allow the marriage of same-sex couples.

Mr Coward, 66, who is homosexual, has been campaigning to get gay marriage legalised for many years and said the vote on Tuesday, by 400 votes to 175, was better than he had dreamed of. He set up the campaign group, Changing Attitudes, which lobbies for more acceptance of same-sex relationships in the Anglican Church here and in Africa.

Gay couples have been able to enter into civil partnerships for a few years, giving the same rights in law as heterosexual couples.

But Mr Coward said: “A civil partnership is a legal contract that gives same-sex couples all legal rights and protection but it doesn’t have the social status and values that go with marriage.

“Some churches will accept same-sex marriages, but they are under no obligation to and, unless the House of Bishops wakes up and gets on board, gay couples will be getting married in register offices and town halls but not in churches.

“The battle for equality is not yet won and the campaign will go on.”

Devizes MP Claire Perry missed the vote but supports gay marriage. She said: “Ultimately it comes down to fairness and I think it is fair to allow as many people as possible to marry regardless of race, colour or sexual orientation.

“Marriage is the bedrock of our society and anything that strengthens it is to be supported – and in my view this move will strengthen, not weaken, marriage. I reach this view as a practising Christian and it is one shared by our own bishop, Nicholas Holtam.

“I therefore support this legislation, although the irony of the matter is that urgent Government business required me to miss the vote.

“I have so appreciated all the communications from my constituents on this issue – both sides of the argument have been represented fairly and rationally and without rancour and they have helped me reach my decision.”

The Archdeacon of Wiltshire, the Venerable Ruth Worsley, said: “Whilst many in the Church of England will have welcomed the passing of the gay marriage vote in the House of Commons, the church as a whole is unable to support the measure at this time.

“However, I wish to emphasise that everyone, no matter what their sexual orientation, is welcome in our churches.”

The Rev Ian Cooper, team vicar for the Anglican Team Ministry in Marlborough, said: “The Church of England’s position at the moment is that we are excluded from the legislation and therefore we would be unable to conduct any gay marriages.

“On a personal level I am very pleased. The church reflects all sorts of views and mine happens to be one of support but I recognise there are other people in my congregation who would be opposed so we have to live with differences on that.

“I believe in stable relationships and anything that promotes that.”

“I remember homosexuality being a criminal offence. Attitudes have changed over 50 years and I am glad that we’re now a more loving society.”