Anglican Marriage – A Guide to the Law

The third edition of this perennial favourite has just dropped through the letter boxes of Anglican clergy in England and Wales. It’s an update in the light of the new rules for who can (and still can’t) get married in a Church of England building and the recent developments with civil partnerships.

Of interest to readers of this site are two sections, 14 and 15. Section 14 deals with civil partnerships and has the following key sentences:

The existence of a civil partnership is an impediment to marriage. However, a minister may not refuse to marry a man and a woman on the basis that a party of parties has a former civil spouse still living (where the civil partnership has been dissolved) and the English House of Bishops’ Advice to the Clergy on the remarriage of divorcees does not apply.

Interesting, because the obvious conclusion is that the Church of England does not recognise civil partnership as equivalent to marriage. In case anybody was wondering…

Section 15 on “Persons of acquired gender” raises a particular issue that many clergy will probably never encounter, but if they do might provoke some moral deliberation.

In England, the personal consciences of the clergy are protected so that the minister is not obliged to solemnize the marriage of a person he or she believes is of acquired gender … Clergy do not have a right in law to ask a person about a changed gender, even if suspected. There are strict rules governing issues of confidentiality in this area.

Now, I’m happy with the idea of confidentiality in this area (and I’ve indicated on this blog before that I’m prepared to be more open on the issue of transgenderism then on homosexuality) but how would this refusal to marry someone you thought had changed gender work? I mean, if you’re not allowed to ask, do you simply refuse to do the wedding and you tell the couple why? Can you imagine the conversation if they both were biologically the sex they were born? Wouldn’t it be easier to say to all your couples (in the process of asking questions about previous marriages and civil partnerships) something on the lines of,

“I am not allowed by law to ask either of you is transgendered. However, I would like to tell you that if at some point in the process before the wedding day I suspect that either of you are transgendered I have the right to refuse to marry you. I would prefer it that if either of you were transgendered you would feel able to tell me before the wedding”.

Would that fall foul of the law? From my experience in asking about previous civil partnerships, 99% of couples would respond to such a question by saying, “that’s OK, we’re not transgendered” in the same manner that they do when I ask about whether either of them has ever conducted a civil partnership before (assuming that they understand the question – not all my wedding couples know what a civil partnership is!).

And, while we’re on the subject, how do you think we should handle the case where a man and woman present for marriage, with no legal impediment, but the man is a transsexual who, while having gender transited, has not applied for legal recognition as a female?

Thoughts? I’ve invited Peter Beesley, the lead author of the Guide, to respond to the questions above. Let’s hope he’s got time to contribute.

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  • Faith

    Hi Peter,

    I've recently started following your blog (mostly via Anglican Mainstream) and have often wondered what your views were on transsexualism, which is so often caught up in discussions on homosexuality among conservative Christians but not typically given the separate consideration it deserves.

    Like Susannah who commented on your earlier posts on this subject, I transitioned from male to female (in my case over a decade ago) and like her I am a committed Anglican in the Church of England. I submit myself to the authority of God's Word, but of course this was not always the case; I was backslidden/liberal/nominally Christian when I transitioned (after all, God had not answered my prayers for liberation from such desires!), and I did not then really fear God as I do now with respect to sexual immorality.

    Currently, long after transitioning, I live a celibate life, partly because (by the Grace of God) I have no interest in a sexual relationship of any kind, and partly because I know that whether I 'married' a man or a woman, I would never know for sure whether I was sinning and causing offence to God and/or to the church by doing so.

    Nevertheless, I still live with the worry that by continuing to live in my acquired gender (in which I feel entirely comfortable and happy) I may be continually sinning. I confess freely that I sinned in getting to this state, both in thoughts and deeds, many many times. I can also point to all sorts of events in my childhood (e.g. the lack of any positive male role models and the existence of many negative ones) that may have contributed to my condition and I certainly wish things had been different.

    But do you think that a post-transition transsexual person continues to sin even if they are celibate? Or is it only the sexual act that is sinful? I fear that for many conservative Christians (eg the Evangelical Alliance), any time I leave the house I am sinning against God, because I am presenting myself as a gender which by birth I am not – at least not chromosomally. Is celibacy not enough?

    And if I am continually sinning, must I return to my original gender in order to be saved? Or am I forgiven by faith in Jesus, even if I have no intention to live as a man again? It is true that we all sin every day, not just transsexuals, but I do worry that perhaps my insistence on continuing to live as a woman is evidence of an unrepentant (and unsaved) heart?Sometimes it feels like a sex-change is an unforgivable sin in many Christian's eyes.

    I am intensely aware of my sin and my need for a Saviour, and I give thanks to God that he Loves me even while I am a sinner, and that he sent his Son to die for my sin.

    I look for consolation in the biblical passages concerning eunuchs, which in biblical terms I suppose is what I now am. Matthew 19:12 is particularly reassuring to me, because I do feel able to be dedicated to the Kingdom of Heaven without distraction. And also there is Isaiah 56:3-5. Perhaps those who are offended by transsexual women might consider me a eunuch if they can accept that instead?

    It does make things very confusing to be a bible-believing Christian and a transsexual woman. Am I permitted to preach and teach, or must I remain silent in church and cover my head? I'm not joking. This is a serious business.

    An conservative evangelical perspective on this would be much appreciated.

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      Hi Faith,

      You raise some really good issues which I'm going to discuss, but as I do so I recognise that I am talking about your personal life. I don't want to be offensive in what I write, but if I do say something that you don't like or that seems to be directed at you in an inappropriate manner, please accept my apologies in advance.

      If I understand you correctly, you are describing yourself as a (post-op?) male to female transgender, now living as a female who now holds a conservative Christian theology. You are celibate by choice.

      What I found interesting was that you seem to indicate that you recognise that aspects of your decision to transit sex were sinful. You're also very open about observing parts of your life (especially as a child) which could have been emotional and psychological contributory factors. I think that's a tremendously brave thing to do. Often pro-GLBT activists will pressurise people into accepting a biological model of sexual attraction and gender identity – the truth is somewhat more complicated and often a complicated mixture of nature and nurture for us all.

      But the question remains – are you still sinning by remaining a woman? If you read the other posts I've written on this subject you'll see that I'm open to the idea that our sexual and gender identity might very well be broken because of the fall and that someone who exhibits gender dysphoria might very well actually be women stuck in male bodies (and vice-versa). Of course, there may also be those for whom gender dysphoria may be the result of emotional and relational issues. Although you say you're aware of the possibility of this in your life, you don't actually claim to believe that this is the root of your earlier dysphoria.

      I guess we might want to ask in what way does someone who is transgender sin in order to answer the question you raise about whether you continue to sin (if you have ever sinned in this regard at all)? I think a more conservative viewpoint (assuming that gender dysphoria is an emotional/psychological malady rather then a true reporting of an actual "valid" brokenness) would say that there are two areas of sin. The first is that actual removing of parts of one's body (and I guess the creation of new ones) that are identified with one's sex is an abuse of the body that God created. Of course that judgement comes with the assumption that you are meant to be the sex that you are born chromosomally as (which of course itself raises issues for those born intersex). The second possible area of sin is to identify sexually as the opposite gender to that which you were biologically born as.

      Now those positions are from the more conservative perspective, and to counter them I would want to ask what we mean by gender and whether the western world (and Christian western world) has created gender stereotypes and models which are not necessarily Biblical. It's clear that men and women are different (and not just "down there") but are any of those differences right or wrong. What I mean is, men tend to be more assertive, but is a passive male doing something wrong? In the same way, women are more relational then men, but is a less relational woman doing something wrong either?

      So we have gender models which might give us a guideline for behaviour, but they are only ever a guideline and never a hard and fast rule. They also vary from culture to culture and sometimes even contradict themselves from culture to culture. This then challenges notions that there are particular gender identities for men and women that can be extrapolated from nature and must be adhered to. Of course, this isn't at all to deny that sex has a purpose in God's economy, and the Scriptures clearly show that the union of a man and a woman (and not the same sex) has been designed by God to indicate the union of Christ and his Church.

      I guess that leads us to the nub of your question, which essentially boils down to this – are you truly a woman or are you still a man? That I think would be an especially important question if you were seeking to enter into a sexual relationship, because you take very seriously the idea that we are slaves to Christ and that our lives belong to him – we want to use our bodies to say good and right things about God, not wrong and idolatrous things.

      Let me leave that idea hanging to return to, and instead ask another question. If a man gets divorced, remarries and then becomes a Christian, should he leave his new wife and go back to his old (or stay single if she is no longer interested in a relationship). I think most of us would say that he should stay with his new wife. Although he made some serious mistakes and sins in his pre-Christ life, he should now live to glorify God with the situation Christ has redeemed him in. Certainly, to now abandon his present wife would be a sin and no one suggests that he is constantly sinning by remaining with her.

      Or how about someone who before they came to Christ covered their body with tattoos? Do they now get rid of them all, possible a painful and costly procedure? No, I think what they do is carry on with the mistakes they might have made before, but choosing to now let their bodies be used for God's glory.

      Do you see the point I am making? We all make mistakes and sin before we are saved. The real issue is what you will do with your life now that Christ has entered your life in a powerful way. Some things we cannot go back and change, even if we wanted to. It seems to me though that you don't want to go back to being a man. However much you think the decisions leading up to your sex change were sinful and driven by brokenness, you are now comfortable living as a woman. I can't find anything in Scripture that indicates that someone who has sinned before coming to Christ must readjust their life so that prior sins are removed. Rather, we are challenged to live each new day for the glory of God in the situation we find ourselves.

      I would say to you that if you are genuinely comfortable living as a woman and it doesn't cause you distress then carry on. That of course assumes that you are happy with doing so and that you are not hiding away from emotional issues which need to be addressed. You don't sound as though you are, but it's worth asking in any case.

      Of course, I think you are making a very wise choice to remain celibate. Firstly, this removes any chance that you might "get it wrong" as to whether you should be sexually active and with who. As you have probably discovered, sex is not necessary for a healthy human existence. Furthermore, Scripture seems to indicate that sex will not exist in heaven (it's primary use to unite male and female as a sign of Christ and the Church will not be necessary since we *will* all be united with Christ at that point) so in choosing to be celibate you are a fore-runner of the resurrection! Secondly, I think it helps the "weaker brother" in not doing anything that might cause others to stumble.

      If you are not acting sexually, I cannot see what reason anybody in the church might have to object. All the other aspects of "femaleness" that women do are largely cultural behaviours. Do people get upset because you wear a skirt? Point them to Indonesia where men always wear skirts. Is there an objection to you wearing make-up? Women wearing make-up is simply a modern western cultural phenomena – in previous centuries it was the men who wore it. As long as you're not deliberately attempting to offend or shock (and we all know people, transgender or otherwise who will do things deliberately to shock and cause a response) I think you should be given the respect and courtesy that you show others.

      Embrace the eunuch that God has let you become. You know better then I do that there will always be some Christians that won't accept you, but then there are Christians who don't like all kinds of people because they're different. Certainly, in choosing to not conform to people's cultural assumptions you will never have a quiet life, but at the same time you are walking the hard road of discipleship, seeking to follow Christ in the position you find yourself.

      Would love to know what you make of all that!

    • Faith

      Hi Peter,

      Thankyou very much for the long and considerate reply.

      I agree, I think, with everything you have written. You've clearly understood my dilemma.

      I feel the need to clarify that yes I am post-op, have been for over a decade, and changed my legal gender as soon as it was permissible to do so. Because I transitioned quite young, even close friends do not know my background unless I (in a very few cases) decided to tell them.

      Being attractive helps surpass some prejudices and my compassion goes out to those who transitioned but whose history remains obvious to all.

      I had previously considered whether my situation might be considered akin to someone with tattoos, as you suggest. I think the comparison is valid. I always hoped that if at some point I was outed and became the subject of criticism by my conservative Christian brethren, I might at least say to them that yes, I agree, what I have done is sinful, but now I will live to God's glory as best I can in the state in which he has redeemed me. I am not someone who demands that everyone accept that 'God made me this way'. Like you I consider that my condition would not occur if the world were not fallen.

      I will not speak for others, but as for me there were plenty of 'emotional and psychological' factors in my childhood that might have triggered and reinforced my desire to be female. I'll never know for sure if there was any biological cause at all. My own opinion is that if it had been identified early enough I could have been healed without the drugs and the operations, but of course I was too ashamed, both of being male and of wishing I wasn't.

      It's ironic, that as a post-op ts woman, I had the opportunity to interact with men in a very different way, and came to admire many of them in a way that I never had previously. I went from seeing manhood as a shameful and wicked thing to something that could be heroic and amazingly self-sacrificial. Then I would think 'Oh God, what have I done?'

      So yes I do suspect that if there were men in my life I had admired rather than feared or disdained, I may not have suffered as I did, but I can't know for sure.

      I must also say though that aside from the sin issue I am at peace in my life now. Transitioning 'worked' in that sense, though I would not advocate it except as a last resort. I feel no sense of being 'in the wrong body'. I even forget most of the time that my life was ever different. I thoroughly enjoy life, and I trust God. I occasionally feel regret at having 'missed out on' marriage and family, but compared to the anguish I used to experience it's nothing at all. My deepest sadness is really that I have sinned so blatantly, and though I repent honestly and deeply and wish so much I could have known then what I know now, I can never go back. I can only trust that as God in Christ has redeemed a fallen world that loved sin, so he has also redeemed me through faith in him.

      • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

        Faith,

        Thanks so much for replying again. I think you've been terribly courageous to share with us here your experiences.

        I think you know, but I'm going to remind you again just in case, that it doesn't matter how terribly you've sinned, what really matters is faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. As the fantastic hymn puts it,

        O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood,
        To every believer the promise of God;
        The vilest offender who truly believes,
        That moment from Jesus a pardon receives.

        You are pardoned, you are redeemed and your future with God is utterly guaranteed from the moment you repented of sin. Yes, what you did may stay with you in this life and there will be times (like all of us) that you wish that you could go back and change things, but nothing can separate you from God now that the Blood of Jesus has washed you clean in the Father's eyes.

        God Bless you.

  • John Payzant

    'Sexual gender identity being broken because of the fall', Peter Ould

    I think that is a good point you made.

    Anything in a broken state might be hard to define as to what it is?

    Homosexual and Trannsexual are not the same.

    One is about what sex one is attracted to

    Another is how one views oneself through and through

    In the Living Waters Ministry in Vancouver Canada mentions, "Tran-sexuality is a sensitive topic and there are ones who want to go ahead with the surgery"

    The Etymology of the word sin means to miss the mark like when an archer tries to aim for the bull's eye and misses

    The right mark in our lives could more relate to God's plan in our lives

    God created us and as far as plans are concerned is what we're best made for

  • John Payzant

    Everybody can be different in many diverse degrees

    There can be many varieties of qualities in male and female humans

    There can be female qualities in males

    There can be male qualities in females

    I commented The Living Waters in Vancouver mentioned "There are ones who want to go ahead with the surgery and there are ones who don't want to go ahead with the surgery"

    Also, it is not just Tran-sexual persons who go ahead with surgery that changes the body.

    Look at all of the plastic surgery that goes on?

    Look at how steroids changes the body?

    Look at what steroids do to the body?

  • John Payzant

    Thank you Faith for your honesty and transparency about yourself and thank you for mentioning about Susannah as well. From reading the comments here as well as listening to Living Waters Vancouver helps me to realize how sensitive a situation this is. One of the customers at my workplace revealed is a male to female transexual. The person would dress like any other male. The person had long hair but so did I for sometime. Long hair does not make any person a transexual. One coworker mentioned to me, "look at the long hair the person has?". When I used to go to a couple of heavy metal bars were male persons with long hair. When I go to the pow-wow are male persons with long hair and braids. We are short staffed with a lot of duties combined into our jobs can be tedious. There is not much time for contemplation. I deal with a lot of money and inventory in our electronic & paper bingo hall. Being short in cash and inventory can be very easy. I'd just quickly look at the person but more at the cash and inventory in order that everything is more accurate. Many people say to me, "Thank you Sir!". I decided to say that in my reply as well. One day a person said back to me, "I'm not a sir" while I was so busy and it didn't sink in. The person could have come back and talk to me when I wasn't so busy would help this to sink in. The person signed an Incident Report and threatened legal action over me saying, "Thank You Sir!". From there on I am more neutral and charming. I've memorized some sayings that no matter how busy it is I'll just say these things. They are phrases like, 'Thank you so much', 'Good Luck', 'Enjoy your time here', 'Enjoy the rest of the day'. So, no matter who comes up, the day will go smoother. The sayings of 'Sir, Maam, Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ladd, Lass, Son, Boy, Girl can be considered quite formal old fashioned, stuffy and maybe even politically incorrect. The customer now has breasts and I don't know if they are surgical or store bought like a wig. The Transexual person looks depressed at times and does not seem content. But reading about what you feel on the inside helps me to be more sensitive as to what me customer feels on the inside. I find the more gender neutral and charming approach I practice now is wiser.

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