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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