The Church of England has said that sex is for straight married couples only, while declaring that Christians in gay or straight civil partnerships should be sexually abstinent.

In a statement issued today by the House of Bishops, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, he addressed the changes in marriage law for the first time.

The pastoral statement added that marriage, 'continues to provide the best context for the raising of children.'

The bishops defined marriage as 'a faithful, committed, permanent and legally sanctioned relationship between a man and a woman making a public commitment to each other,' and 'central to the stability and health of human society.'

The statement published by the House of Bishops, which includes all 42 of the most senior diocesan bishops, added: 'It would not be right to produce an authorised public liturgy in connection with the registering of civil partnerships.

'With opposite-sex civil partnerships, and with those for same-sex couples, the Church's teaching on sexual ethics remains unchanged. For Christians, marriage - that is the lifelong union between a man and a woman, contracted with the making of vows - remains the proper context for sexual activity.'

But the leaders of the Church said churchgoers with civil partnerships should be treated 'sensitively and pastorally'.

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