Civil partnership ceremonies could include religious elements and even be held in a church under a proposal being considered by Britain's government, UK-based daily The Telegraph reported.

Liberal Democrat Lynne Featherstone, the equalities minister, is expected to announce plans to lift the ban on gay and lesbian unions in churches and other places of worship.

The paper reported that the plans include the possibility of allowing priests or other religious figures to carry out the ceremony.

A main distinction between civil partnerships and marriage has been its secular requirements. More than 26,000 gay couples have tied the knot since the law was introduced in 2005.

The proposal, however, has already drawn heated opposition from the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England.

“The Church of England is not proposing to open its churches for civil partnership registrations,” a Church of England spokesman told the paper last year.

Because the move would remove one of the few remaining distinctions between civil partnerships and marriage, gay rights advocates are urging the government to legalize marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

“Instead of tinkering with the second-class system of civil partnerships, the government should bring forward legislation to legalize same-sex marriage,” gay activist Peter Tatchell said.

Tatchell's group, OutRage!, is challenging the government's unions laws.

“Outlawing black or Jewish people from getting married would provoke uproar,” Tatchell wrote on the group's website. “The prohibition on gay marriages should provoke similar outrage. Arbitrarily excluding heterosexual couples from civil partnerships is equally reprehensible.”

Unclear is whether the new-style church-centric civil partnership would be renamed “marriage.”