THE Bishop of Durham was last night taking advice on what to do after a homosexual vicar had his gay marriage blessed at a church service - flouting Church of England guidelines.

The Reverend Christopher Wardale, 59, and retired Northumbria University lecturer Malcolm Macourt, 58, tied the knot at a civil ceremony in Newcastle yesterday.

The couple later held a thanksgiving service at a local church, attended by former Bishop of Durham, Dr David Jenkins.

Mr Wardale, who is vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Darlington, said: "We are both deeply happy today, it's been wonderful."

Sir Elton John and David Furnish also sealed their union with a kiss yesterday. The beaming couple laughed and waved at fans, following their civil partnership ceremony at Windsor's Guildhall.

Prime Minister Tony Blair also hailed the success of the new measures to put same-sex relationships on the same legal footing as heterosexual ones. Nearly 700 couples are thought to have taken advantage of the new legislation yesterday throughout England and Wales.

"I think it is a modern, progressive step forward for the country and I am proud we did it," he said.

But Stephen Green, national director of Christian Voice, said: "Ordinary people will be revolted by the sight of these couples embracing, and the recognition in our law of what the Bible describes as an abomination and vile affection will bring judgement on our land from the same Almighty God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah."

Earlier this month, the Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend Tom Wright, said clergy should not take part in anything that could be perceived as a "gay wedding" or they could face disciplinary action.

But Dr Jenkins, who gave a sermon at St Thomas the Martyr church after the civil ceremony between Mr Wardale and Mr Macourt, made it clear that it was as much a service of defiance as of celebration.

He said: "I will confess to find myself both agitated and depressed by the ways in which official church bodies - not least the Roman Catholic ones and currently Anglican ones - handle matters of 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."

Mr Wardale met Mr Macourt in 1984, when the former worked at a parish on South Tyneside.

After the civil ceremony, the couple were joined by more than 100 friends for what the Church of England said was a thanksgiving, not a blessing. There was a strong contingent of clergy among the guests.

The couple repeated the commitment made before the registrar and placed their left hands - each bearing a gold ring on their wedding finger - in the hand of the former bishop.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Wardale said: "It's also wonderful that we had the service today on the 21st of December, since we have been together for 21 years. It's a significant number for us."

He declined to comment on their decision to flout church rules on religious blessings for gay marriages.

A spokeswoman for the Bishop of Durham said: "The bishop is taking advice about what action to take when clergy breach the guidelines."