The church and the state have long endured a special relationship resting upon a delicate balance, but an unprecedented clash between the two is arising over the issue of gay marriage.

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The government is currently carrying out a consultation on the matter, due to end this week, which has given way to much anger and debate from all parties involved.

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The Church of England claims that government proposals to open marriage to gay couples by 2015 could 'undermine' and 'dilute' the important religious institution. It could even lead the church to be forced out of its role of conducting weddings on behalf of the state.

Government proposals include allowing same-sex couples to marry in a register office or other civil ceremony, allow couples already in a civil partnership to convert it into a marriage - but will maintain the legal ban on same-sex couples marrying in a religious service.

Those proposals have been described as 'shallow' and 'not legally sound' by Church officials.

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Meanwhile, gay right campaigners have accused the church of "scaremongering" and "advocating legal discrimination."

Downing Street made it clear that Prime Minister David Cameron had taken a personal interest in the matter back in September 2011, when the consultation was first discussed, arguing that the UK should be a world leader in equality

At present, same-sex couples are able to enter into civil partnerships, which offer most of the legal protections of marriage, but the actual term 'marriage' is not used.

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In April, prominent Church of England figures, including five former bishops, wrote an open letter to The Times saying the church had 'nothing to fear' from the prospect of gay marriage.

Although the consultation ends this Thursday, the outcome of the consultation won't be clear until later this year.

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