ESSEX County Council has come under fire after accidentally sending out a letter demanding churches become licensed to conduct same-sex marriages.

The letter sent to churches which have been approved to hold marriages said all “approved” churches must be licensed to conduct same sex marriages with “immediate effect”.

However, the letter, which was sent at the end of April, was done so by mistake.

Within a week, the county council sent out a letter of apology and advised that only churches wishing to conduct same-sex marriages should apply to register the building for this purpose.

A spokesman for Essex County Council said its guidance on registering a building for same-sex marriages “applies only to those institutions which want to conduct such ceremonies”.

It added: “Essex County Council’s guidance on registering a building certified as a Place of Religious Worship for same-sex marriages applies only to those institutions which want to conduct such ceremonies.

“A letter sent to churches in the Colchester district in April may have created a different impression and we issued a clarification within a week explaining the correct procedure.”

Simon Calvert, spokesman for the Christian Institute, said the council needed to launch an investigation.

He said: “They must tell local churches what they are doing to prevent similar mistakes in the future.”