Comments: Marriage and Civil Partnership changes?

As a transsexual Christian, there is an issue in this debate that can impact on us, and it is this: in order to be recognised as legally female, and have legal rights to women's services, women's pensions, women's facilities, women's clubs, and generally to be recognised legally by society as female, I have to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate. Otherwise, a shop could decline to let me use women's loos, a club could bar me from membership, I could be placed on a male ward or in a male prison, it could effect my pension and insurance status, and besides, it is simply disrespectful and diminishing to treat someone whose gender is female and who lives female and now has female body parts as if they were a man.

Now... this Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) comes with a condition. If you are married, you first have to divorce your partner, before you can be granted this certificate and your legal recognition and rights as a woman.

What? Isn't that a terrible thing? To legislate that two people who love each other and have committed to marriage must divorce, to get their legal rights.

When so much is made of fidelity and marriage in the media, you'd think people would want to protect your marriage, not tell you to get divorced.

Of course, it's down to religious dogma, which argues that, regardless of the love and fidelity, a woman can't be married to a woman.

So they have legally made divorce obligatory, if a transsexual woman wants her legal rights as a woman.

In what possible way is someone's marriage a way of determining their gender? Gender is integral, whether you are married or single or anything. The link between the two makes no logical contribution to demonstrating that a person's gender is female or male. It should therefore not be a condition of granting people their rights.

And that's my wider point. Whether a person is female or male, this should not be linked to conditionality when it comes to marriage. Because gender is simply an integral part of somebody's personhood, not stopping them loving in any way, not changing fidelity, sacrifice, commitment, tenderness, tender expressions of care within dedicated partnership.

Why should someone have to divorce to have access to their legal rights?

Why should some people be allowed to commit their love to the sacrament of marriage, and others be refused?

When the bible was written there was no social inkling of the ways psychology and medicine would - in the future - be able to liberate people to reclaim their real gender. Over the centuries, we've come to see that sexuality and gender need not be tied up with strange taboos, but are diverse, precious, authentic, and filled with the capacity to love.

I hope so much that equality will be brought to bear on the right to get married, and that this discrimination will end, and that also, transgendered men and women will no longer be told they have to get divorced, which is a violation and injustice, and appalling that the law makes it a requirement in order to be treated equally with other women.

It's simple really. If a woman is opposed to marrying another woman, then marry a man. But, in a secular state, why should the law require others to submit to a viewpoint like that? The true threat to marriage is not "the gay agenda" but heterosexual unfaithfulness and selfishness.

The law should not be an instrument of discrimination, especially in areas of personal relationship, and how people choose to enshrine or sanctify them.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Friday, 24 December 2010 at 1:33pm GMT

"So they have legally made divorce obligatory, if a transsexual woman wants her legal rights as a woman."

This is OBSCENE. Wonder what the good bishop of Truro would say to it? Oh wait: he's too busy living in his imaginary world where LGBTs simply *don't exist*.

Posted by JCF at Friday, 24 December 2010 at 7:24pm GMT

I thought that they taught some degree of effective writing in homiletics - Bp. Thornton produced the most puerile piece I've ever read, however.

It reads as "Marriage is between man and woman because they make babies. I believe marriage is between man and woman. People don't like gay sex. There are civil unions. So there should not be gay marriages, because marriage is only between a man and a woman, because I believe that and there are civil unions."

Seriously, that's the whole argument, and I'm not even being sarcastic - that's the style of the presentation, as well.

I kept expecting to see a signature at the bottom:

"By Timmy Thornton, age 8"

Was he actually defending the "traditionalist" stance, or damning with faint praise?

Posted by MarkBrunson at Saturday, 25 December 2010 at 7:27am GMT

So you would have to divorce but were then free to enter into a civil partnership with the same person?
This is absolutely ridiculous!

Posted by Erika Baker at Saturday, 25 December 2010 at 9:31am GMT

"There is clearly a strong element within the Christian church who would be still very opposed to the understanding of what one element of what civil partnership might be about, which is a blessing of homosexual practice, to put it in crude terms." - Bishop Timothy Thornton -

'Crude' is your word, dear Bishop. I wonder what you and the 'strong element' you are speaking of here, would think about officially describing heterosexual marriage as 'a blessing of hetero-sexual practice'?

It seems that you and the people you speak of are discussing the Sacrament of Marriage as a blessing of some sort of 'sexual practice' - rather than a blesing of a monogamous, loving realtionship between two people, which is what Christian gays who want to marry are really wanting to have 'blessed' by God in their Church.

It would be more fitting if Christians could take their minds off what they perceive as 'going on in the bedroom' and think more about celebrating the amazing phenomenon of human love - which can be enjoyed by all human beings made in the image and likeness of God, and who see that God their Creator has given them their sexuality and wants them to find a special partner with whom they can live out their lives creatively and well.

Of course, it will possibly be a 'childless' marriage, but that is not a perceived hindrance to heterosexual marriage partnerships - nor should it be for monogamous, homosexual ones.

Remember we are talking about monogsmous, loving relationships here - something very different from the 'serial monogamy' of some heterosexuals who neverthesless can get each of their serial relationships 'blessed' in and by the Church. On the other hand, it is unlikely that homosexual persons engaging in 'serial' relationships would be really interested in the Sacrament of Marriage

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Saturday, 25 December 2010 at 9:37am GMT

Not the excellent +Tim's most theologically argued piece (I'm glad to say!).

Posted by Lister Tonge at Saturday, 25 December 2010 at 11:28am GMT

The Rt Rev Tim seens to have an odd and limited view of marriage as well as human sexuality. Marriage as the blessing of sexual activity? Really?

I don't know if this is true in England, but for heterosexuals in the States, 'boyfriend' now refers to 'the guy I'm sleeping with,' and 'fiance' means 'the guy I've been sleeping with for some time [and may have had children with him].' Rates of marriage are falling; rates of divorce are steady and high.Marriage has been, for many, subsumed under the idea of My Perfect Wedding - so much so as to have generated a new noun - 'bridezilla.' Don't know if you have these - truely formidable.

At the same time, gays are pressing hard to legally marry, and many of them also want the blessing of God's church on those marriages where they are legal - sadly, only a few states.

I would say, from the gay and lesbians in long term monagamous relationships that I know, that they have a more generous view of marriage than the good bishop.

Posted by Cynthia Gilliatt at Saturday, 25 December 2010 at 3:23pm GMT

I'm not sure the Bishop believes this stuff himself. That article repeatedly asserts statements the majority of people don't agree with anyway without any underlying argument.

That sounds to me like someone making a lame defence of a party line, either because they think any party line is worth defending out of institutional loyalty or because they want preferment. If he really believed it, I presume that as an intelligent man he'd come up with something better than "heterosexual marriage is different from gay civil partnership because heterosexual couples can have babies, even though not all heterosexual couples can have babies and even though some gay people make great adoptive parents" and "we can't bless civil partnerships because some people in the church won't like it".

I'm not sure why procreation is suddenly being presented as central to the Anglican understanding of marriage. Not only is the number of people getting married falling, but the proportion of married couples choosing not to have any children is increasing, dramatically. Seems a bit of an odd time for the Church to suddenly go all broody and assert that procreation is central to marriage, unless one is so desperate for non-homophobic-sounding arguments to defend the Church of England's appalling official position on homosexuality, that one forgets to think through the unintended implications of what one is saying.

Probably our most loyal and devoted parishioners are a married heterosexual couple in their mid 80s who, after more than 60 years of marriage are still transparently head-over-heels in love with one another. Not just that, but devoted Christians and utterly good people whose Anglican faith is clearly central to their marriage. They never had any children. They didn't make it out over Christmas this year because of the weather and I missed them a lot.

Another couple of devoted parishioners are preparing to celebrate fifty years together in the next year or so. They are also fine people, devout Anglican Christians, pillars of the church and utterly in love with one another. They happen both to be men, and if they were four decades younger than they are, I suspect they might have adopted and become the sort of fine adoptive parents the Bishop rightly lauds. Unfortunately, when they were young enough to adopt, they would have been considered moral degenerates unfit to do so.

I'm not sure what the Bishop presents as the Christian view of marriage really does justice to the wonderful Christian marriages (for they both are in fact, if not in law) I am privileged to see either of these couples living week by week.

The greatest problem for gay people in the church are not the raving queerbashers, because their unChristian prejudice and bile convicts them in the eyes of the vast majority, but those who claim to be our friends but feel the need to tell us we aren't *quite* as good as anyone else. Especially the ones who whisper in private that they really agree with us but can't say so publicly, because they are as much use as wheels on a chicken.

Posted by Gerry Lynch at Saturday, 25 December 2010 at 8:21pm GMT

Having just returned from our 10am Sung Mass at St.Michael and All Angels in Christchurch, New Zealand - where we exeprienced 2 short sharp after-shocks (1 @ 4.9 Richter) - I have become even more philosophical about the Church's arguments about gender and sexuality.

The righteousness doom-sayers might have expected that we in the congregation - who are largely inclusive catholics, with an open mind towards the phenomenon of the LGTB constituency in the Church - would have been shaken off the face of the earth. Whereas, after the lights had gone out (we had lots of candles alight, though) and the organ failed us; we were able to continue the Mass from the point of interruption.

We were actually in the middle of reciting the Creed when the noise and shaking started. But after a startled silence from the sanctuary, I decided it might be good for me (in the middle of the congregation) to continue the saying of the Creed - and after only a few seconds, everyone joined in. The prayer of Consecration was continued by our lady Assistant Priest, Lynn (with the Vicar, Fr. Peter, standing by as Deacon of the Mass) and everyone came up eventually to receive the Bread of Life.

During the general Communion and at the end, I felt emboldened to start off the appropriate hymns, a' cappella, which were sung at first faintly and then lustily by all of us. This helped to put the happenings going on around us into their proper perspective. None of us will forget the strange experience of Emmanuel - God with us - despite the temporary distraction.

Christus Natus Hodie! Alleluia!

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Saturday, 25 December 2010 at 11:22pm GMT

Excellent post, Gerry Lynch, thank-you for it.

Posted by Fr Mark at Sunday, 26 December 2010 at 9:15am GMT

Fr. Ron: good for you and your church! Hope damage and especially casualties minimal. Alleluia!

Posted by Cynthia Gilliatt at Sunday, 26 December 2010 at 7:51pm GMT

Two points:

1) "During the 2010 election campaign, the Conservatives were the only main party to suggest that they would consider allowing full marriage for same-sex couples."

Rather ironic that it was the _conservatives_ proposing same-sex marriage!

2) Article 32 of the 39 seems to me to say all that needs saying:

"... it is lawful for [bishops, priests and deacons], as for all other Christian[s], to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve better to godliness."

And if their discretion leads them to marry a same-sex spouse? Funny that we possess a heritage in which people burned at the stake in part to defend the right of clergy to marry, but we continue to persist in denying that right to roughly 10% of the population, including not a few clergy. Let them "marry at their own discretion."

Posted by Nom de Plume at Sunday, 26 December 2010 at 9:39pm GMT

As we're still in the season of goodwill, let me thank Fr. Ron for a lovely post. Puts our problems in perspective. We survived our main heating system bursting a pipe - spectacularly so - about two hours before Midnight Mass started, in the middle of the coldest December for over a century with every plumber and heating engineer in the region booked solid for weeks. Despite the temperature in the nave dropping to 12 degrees dy the end of the service, we had a beautiful Midnight Mass, and then moved Christmas Morning and St. Stephen's Day services to the hall, which merficully has its own boiler. And the reality of His incarnation was never more real to me, for despite being the maker of the universe, He chose to come into the world in circumstances which were anything other than comfortable.

Nom de Plume - gay marriage is rapidly becoming mainstream opinion in this part of the world. Which makes the position of the Church all the less tenable. How can we present a Gospel of love to the world when we are increasingly identified with our callous judgementalism towards the love of some of our own brothers and sisters?

Posted by Gerry Lynch at Monday, 27 December 2010 at 4:03pm GMT

"So you would have to divorce but were then free to enter into a civil partnership with the same person?
This is absolutely ridiculous!"

Ridiculous but true. My understanding is that one is allowed to enter into a CP on the same day as the divorce so that there is no 'break'. Another bizarre anomaly is that, prior to the Gender Recognition Act, it was possible for a person who had transitioned to marry a person of the same gender because the transitioned person was still deemed, in law, to be of their orginal gender, as shown on their birth certificate. Whether any such marriages ever took place in a CofE church I do not know.

Posted by Laurence C. at Monday, 27 December 2010 at 10:40pm GMT

Gerry Lynch: I think we're on the same page. Where I live same-sex marriage has been the law of the land for five years. (And there's no sign of the sky falling in.)

Posted by Nom de Plume at Tuesday, 28 December 2010 at 2:33am GMT

When the Anglican Communion accepted contraception in 1930 they effectively turned over the traditional teaching of Christian marriage.

That was the day the Anglican horse effectively bolted out of the stable.

Posted by Robert ian Williams at Monday, 3 January 2011 at 7:38am GMT

So, Robert, for you the teaching of Christian Marriage is all about the begetting of Children - rather than the the joy that sexuality can be to the partners in a marriage. I still remember the old phrase, which was supposed to enshrine the expectations of the wife in the connubial bed;
"Just lie back and think of Mother England!"

This ia hardly a tribute to the joys of sexuality that God intended for his human creation! Is it any wonder that the larger number of Catholic partners in marriage avoid this particular ban?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 4 January 2011 at 12:03am GMT

Father Ron Smith - the principle would seem to be yes - that is why God ordains marriage - for Godly offspring. Malachi 2:15. Indeed it seems to involve a work of the Holy Spirit as a blessing of such unions. "And did not God make [you and your wife] one [flesh]? Did not One make you and preserve your spirit alive? And why [did God make you two] one? Because He sought a godly offspring [from your union]. Therefore take heed to yourselves, and let no one deal treacherously and be faithless to the wife of his youth.

Posted by David Wilson at Tuesday, 4 January 2011 at 1:03pm GMT
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