Mother and Godmother

This is a really interesting piece in the Daily Mail.

BaptismA lesbian couple claim they have been told they cannot baptise their one-year-old son because they both want to be registered on official records. Aimi and Victoria Leggett said they wanted to give their child, Alfie, a similar religious upbringing to their own but were told the child could only have one mother. As a compromise, a vicar told Aimi, 25, and Victoria, 22, one of them could be registered as ‘godmother’ instead. But the couple stormed out of the meeting at St Mary’s Church in Warsash, Hampshire, after Reverend George Gebauer said the church baptism register only had one space for one mother and one father. The church is where Aimi – Alfie’s biological mother – was baptised and where her parents got married.

The couple, whose civil partnership was in October 2011, said they had organised the Church of England ceremony with Reverend Andy Norris. But Mr Norris has recently left the parish, and retired clergy – including Mr Gebauer – are now officiating until a replacement can be found. Aimi, from Gosport, said: ‘There was no way one of us was going to be listed as the godparent. We are both Alfie’s mum. ‘Rev Gebauer sat there and told us no child could have parents of the same sex, no child could have two mothers. ‘He did all this for about ten or 15 minutes and was asking us why we want Alfie brought into the church. Aimi added: ‘I’m baptised Church of England, and Victoria is a Catholic. We want him to be brought up the same as we were.

‘We were even saying to the Reverend, “Do you want Alfie to be ashamed of his family? ‘He’s not gay, we are, what we do is up to us.”

The pair still hope to have Alfie baptised at St Peter’s Church in nearby Titchfield. But Victoria admitted: ‘It’s so hard not to be put off by our experience. ‘You get told “yes” you can do it and then it all changes and they completely disregard it.’ Mr Gebauer, 87, said he did not refuse to baptise Alfie, and the couple’s sexuality was not an issue. He said he was willing to carry out the baptism if Aimi and Victoria agree to record just one of them as mother. ‘We have bent over backwards to try and accommodate this family,’ he said. ‘We suggested time and again that the natural mum be registered as mum. ‘They will not give way and that can’t happen.The church baptism register makes no provision for it. ‘We can only make sure the child is theirs. For all we know it they may have pinched the child. They said they wanted a private service, away from the congregation, and with no other babies. We agreed to that. The couple are not even from our parish, so we could have informed their local church and directed them there instead. But we kept quiet and agreed to welcome them in. However, when it came to the administrative side of things they insisted on both being listed as mum and refused to budge from their position.

‘I told them I was unable to do this because the church baptism register only has space for one mother and one father. I believe it would be illegal for me to register them both as mother. They will find themselves in the same situation if they go to another vicar or church. ‘This is nothing to do with their sexuality. At no point did they say they were a couple – it was just assumed. The soul of the little boy is more important than anything else. We did not even push them for the name of the father, we were happy to leave that space blank. We have found ourselves at a stalemate.’

He added: ‘I feel sorry for gay and lesbian people. We know there is something not right within their make-up. They produce too much hormone – they’re imbalanced. That’s the way they are. It’s a medical issue. Surely baptising the child is more important than being registered. They only think of themselves it seems.’

Hmmmmm…..

Controversial last paragraph there, but then he is 87. But on the wider issue, it is an interesting point as to whether baptism forms do allow for two mothers or fathers. I’m not sure that they do. That said, looking through the Common Worship liturgy I’m not sure I can find any problem per se with two mothers bringing a child to baptism. The rubric (as in the Canons) is constantly of “parents” not “mother and father”.

Any thoughts?

Update

Looking at the legislation involved (see Richard’s useful comments below) I think there are two options re the register are as follows.

  1. That the register is treated as the legal record of parenting. At the moment it is acceptable on a baptism register to put down one parent if the other is absent. What is NOT acceptable is to put down a step-parent (i.e. a step-father) where there is a biological father who is still the legal parent of the child. However, I think in the case of a gay couple where both are the legal parents of the child, there should be no problem putting both in the register. Whether you put both under mother or strike through “Father” and replace it with “Mother” or “Parent” is largely immaterial.
    That said, it is the Same-Sex Marriage Bill that allows a statutory document to use the terms “mother” and “father” to mean “two parents of the same sex” (or at least to allow “husband” and “wife” to mean two people of the same-sex). Is that yet in force? If not, I can’t see that the second mother can be entered into the form. Chin stroking time…
  2. That the register is treated as the legal record of siring. If that were the case then the obvious thing to do is put down the biological mother as “Mother” and leave the other entry blank.

Would welcome some legal opinion on this!

28 Comments on “Mother and Godmother

  1. The relevant legislation is the Parochial Registers and Records Measure 1978 which can be found at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukcm/1978/2. Section 2 has the requirement to enter details of baptisms in the register, and schedule 1, form 1 specifies the data that is to be entered in the register, namely:

    Entry No.
    Date of birth
    Date of baptism
    Christian name and surname
    Father’s Christian name and surname
    Mother’s Christian name and surname
    Address
    Father’s occupation
    Mother’s occupation
    Godparents
    Officiating minister

    I cannot see anything in the measure that pemits any of this information to be omitted – nevertheless, I’m aware of cases where the Father and Mother entries have been omitted for adult converts.

  2. The retired priest is perfectly correct about the law. The register requires the name of the mother, and if the name of the father is not supplied then that can remain blank. Whatever arrangements are made by secular law to enable two women to form a civil partnership, does not affect the requirements of the baptism register, or permit the alteration of the register to state incorrectly that the biological mother’s partner is also “mother” of the child.

  3. Commission:
    Here or at the beginning of the Sending Out, a minister may say to the newly baptized who are able to answer for themselves (which, of course, infants can’t, but perhaps to accommodate a response from the mother and co-parent)

    Those who are baptized are called to worship and serve God. Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

    With the help of God, I will.

    We’ll give it a go, but don’t expect us or those in our care to capitulate to apostolic prohibitions on homosexual acts as reaping exclusion from the Kingdom of God!

  4. Actually, it turns out the non-biological mother had already legally adopted the child, so can legally be put down as the mother on the certificate and the baptism can go ahead. The Archdeacon is trying to smooth over ruffled feathers!

      • I think it’s a legal point. The baptism certificate is a legal document and the Archdeacon discovered that, as the other mother has adopted the child, the two women were legally in the right to claim that the child had two mothers. He’s ordered the baptism to go ahead. You can understand why the elderly clergyman was rather confused though!

        • You see I understand that. That’s certainly how it works on birth certificates, but a little bit of me is asking whether *legally* the same applies to a baptism register (which is a statutory document). Where is the legislation that says you can enter two mothers or two fathers?

          • You mean, if a baptism certificate is ‘2. a record of siring’? Yip, in that case the elderly clergyman would be right that they could only enter the biological mother and leave the father blank. I haven’t the foggiest!

  5. I agree with Peter (!) that the fact that the priest concerned is 87 is quite a big factor in all this kerfuffle, and is probably more important in creating a failure of understanding than the ‘standoff between the gays and the church’ angle that the newspapers are trying to sell. As can be seen from the archdeacon’s helpful resolution.

    It’s interesting though to read the priest’s complaints in the Mail article – that they are difficult customers because they don’t want to have a service with everyone else, and aren’t doing it in their own parish etc etc. It *could* be that they think they are just damn well more important than anyone else – but it seems at least as likely that their diffidence about being seen in public may be associated with the whole gay thing. And, if so, the inconsistent responses that they received will have reinforced that. But again, I’m a bit reluctant want to blame the church – it’s more that there’s two or three generations between the disputing parties, which is bound to make things difficult unless you’re chatting with an enlightened being like Tony Benn.

  6. The truth is that the child does have a father and that one of the women is just a parent because of a legal device. That legal construct doesn’t reflect biological reality – for the adults or, more importantly for the child. He will probably be torn several ways as he grows up – he will realise that his mothers couldn’t possibly have been his parents and that although the law forces everyone to say they are his parents, he does in reality have a male father,

    What’s more, sex between two women is a sin. So how can two women in a sexual relationship bring a child to baptism – a prerequisite of which is that they declare that they follow Christ and that they want to bring up the child as a follower of Jesus. They are deliberately going against God by sinning! Indeed they are even *insisting* that their sin be acknowledged on the Church’s baptism certificate!

    Shame on the UK Government for creating this legal and social mess… But woe to the church that will not stand up for righteous and even leads people to think that sin is OK.

  7. I think this is partly under “oh what a tangled legal web cum dog’s breakfast has been woven”.

    What are the actual responsibilities on the Vicar in terms of ascertaining the relationships etc? Is it an offence to baptise child n without proving parental responsibility of the requesting party?Would such a baptism be a) legal and b) effective?

    I’m not sure I trust the published accounts as to what all the parties have said, as they are contradictory. Perhaps there’s some confusion on all sides, including the departing incumbent’s briefing of his locums.

    I’m not a vicar but I’d say it is quite difficult for a vicar to ascertain the legal relationship of such a couple, and their rights re Parental Responsibility. There are a lot of relevant questions:

    Is there a civil partnership?
    Was there a civil partnership at conception?
    If not, is there an Adoption?
    If not, is there a Parental Responsibility Court Order?
    If not, is there a Parental Responsibility Agreement?
    What was the status of the sperm donor?
    Was there a joint application to a UK fertility clinic?
    Was the donation done through a licensed UK clinic? Compare for example the story from a month ago when the couple have used various shenanigans to get round UK Law so they can do things which are illegal here, such as sex selection.
    If not, the donor may have some responsibilities.

    And presumably it all has to be proven.

    Stonewall has a large leaflet all about it.

    Common sense may have said adjourn the meeting in order to do take advice form an ecclesiastical lawyer !

    That’s leaving aside everything about whether baptism can be a “rubber stamp” because “n is a cradle Anglican, Catholic etc”. We have no way of knowing the individual circumstances of this case so it would be improper to comment further. Would a blessing be more appropriate anyway?

    Has anyone published a resource about ‘modern marriage’ for vicars in these circumstances?

  8. They’ll probably have to alter the register to something gender neutral like ‘parent 1’ and ‘parent 2’ to accommodate these kinds of situations in the future.

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