A VICAR from a village church near Banbury has caused controversy by saying gay couples should expect society to "support and encourage them" as well as heterosexual couples.

Father Roger Bellamy, from St Peter and St Paul's Parish Church, King's Sutton, added that although the Church of England was legally excluded from marrying same-sex couples he thought it would be a "good and holy thing to do" to bless couples.

Father Bellamy said: "No-one has ever asked me to, but despite the House of Bishops I might be tempted to say yes."

The vicar wrote in his April church newsletter that people of the same sex should be supported by society if they want to get married.

And he added that limiting sex to marriage was "at best naive" and could be "damaging and guilt-inducing" to relationships.

Father Bellamy claimed his words received a positive response from the community, and said: "I've had lots of comments from people, far more than I've had for my newsletter before.

"People have come to see me from a wide variety of backgrounds.

"There are people who go to the Baptist church and people who do not even go to church at all."

On why he decided to make the comments, he added: "I always to try to write about something local in one issue and then a wider one like this in the next.

"The Church of England has its views but I see it as my role to speak the truth."

In the newsletter, which is delivered to each house in the village at the start of each month, Father Bellamy said it made no difference to relationships whether the two people were of the same sex, and that people should accept the wide range of possible sex orientations.

On the subject of pre-marital sex, he added: "My view is that the degree of intimacy between people should reflect the degree of love and commitment.

"So I am not in favour of promiscuous relations, nor of adultery, but I think to say sex is limited to within marriage is at best naive and at worst damaging and guilt inducing."

The official Church of England stance, according to the church's website, is that the marriage of same-sex couples is banned, and that sexual intercourse should only take place within marriage.

A letter from a Blenheim Rise resident in King's Sutton, described the vicar's attitude as "deplorable."

It said: "Father Roger goes on and on about what he thinks, when he is employed to tell us what God thinks, no matter how much we might disagree with it.

"His high-handed attitude is deplorable and this has alienated people who might otherwise have been tolerant or even supportive."

Last month the church announced it had raised £100,000 to fund repairs to the church spire.

The work has now begun, with parishioners setting themselves another ambitious target of £100,000 for work to the interior of the church.