The controversial former Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend David Jenkins, yesterday criticised the Church of England for its unfeeling dogmatism in handling matters of human sexuality. Here is the full text of his sermon, given at the thanksgiving service following the civil ceremony of the Reverend Christopher Wardale and Malcolm Macourt.

How are we to respond to the fact that this service of thanksgiving for friendship and commitment is both a service of celebration and also a service of defiance?

As friends of Malcolm and Christopher, we are celebrating with them the recognition - at least in civil and legal terms - of their long-standing commitment to one another for over 20 years.

This is as total a commitment as that which the Christians among us hold as the commitment to a common life in marriage. But it is not a homosexual marriage - for that is a contradiction in terms.

All the fuss in the papers about gay marriages, "wedding" clothes, marriage parties and various forms of "pink" jollification, are misleading.

In the Christian understanding, marriage is not merely about love, it is about making love and thereby producing and nurturing children in family support and loyalty. And, as such, it must be the central form of sustaining and maintaining human society.

You ask me than why on earth are you standing here today - so publicly - on this particular occasion?

My answer is Christopher and Malcolm. I first met them in my third year as Bishop of Durham. My diary for 1987 records that on Sunday, May 31, I attended 10.15am Parish Eucharist at the Church of St Nicholas, Hedworth.

I still remember the way the parishioners - many of them miners and their families from Boldon Colliery - took the obvious partnership between Christopher and Malcolm in their stride.

Indeed, I was to remember this a few years later on a visit to the Miners' Union headquarters in Durham for the dedication of what was in effect to become a memorial banner for the recently formed Northumberland-Durham branch of the shrinking union.

I had been having a bit of an argument with Arthur Scargill (I had suggested that miners had now to build new lives on their solidarity and their villages) and we had retired to the bar.

One of the union officials came up to me and said: "Bishop, what's all this fuss about queers, then?" I put my beer down carefully and drew myself up into what I have come to recognise as my repel borders stance.

He went on: "I don't see what all the fuss is about. We have them down the mine. They're different, but they're mostly okay." So I relaxed and we turned to chat about matters of real local concern.

I have to confess that much in official Church utterances on matters of sexuality troubles me deeply.

Preparing this sermon reminded me of an incident when I was a consultant at the Lambeth Conference in 1986. I was sitting in the gallery of Church House while on the floor below an elderly bishop was being ponderous about women priests. I suddenly heard a Cowley Father sitting on my left hiss to the Canadian theologian sitting on my right: "Get hold of Jenkins, he's going to levitate," I do not propose to levitate today, but I will confess I find myself both agitated and depressed by the ways in which official church bodies - not least Roman Catholic ones and currently Anglican ones - handle matters of human sexuality with unfeeling dogmatism and insensitive regulation.

Hence my taking a public part in my 81st year in this service of celebration for Malcolm and Christopher, which is also a service of defiance.

Those of us taking official parts in this service know that holding it here in St Thomas' is contrary to the spirit of a pastoral statement from the House of Bishops of the Church of England on Civil Relationships issued on July 25 of this year. The statement makes it clear that the House of Bishops does not approve of, or authorise any form of services of blessing for those who register a civil partnership. This is too bad and much to be regretted, but the civil recognition given to the partnership of Malcolm and Christopher is not to be regretted.

In the future, we in the Church shall have to go on praying about these matters, addressing arguments and maintaining our witness to the way God calls us to widen our understanding of the responsible exercise of human sexuality -the encouragement of mutual respect, decency and the avoidance of promiscuity - between partners whether hetrosexual or homosexual.

At present, we must follow the advice (although perhaps not the behaviour) of one of my nostalgically favourite TV characters, Corporal Jones; "Don't panic."

Meanwhile, I believe we can rightly and sincerely share the thanksgiving of Malcolm and Christopher and the love they share and look forward to Christmas, our celebration that God is with us, once and for all.