TELEGRAPH — The Church of England has for the first time confirmed that marriage between same-sex couples is valid – as long as they were man and wife when they took their vows.
As bishops prepare to descend on York on Friday for General Synod, they have been asked to answer more than 100 questions involving an array of controversial topics such as reporting abuse during confession, non-disclosure agreements and ethical investments in large technology companies.
The Church teaches that a marriage ceremony should only take place between men and women. However one Synod member, Prudence Daily, asked bishops in written submissions published on Thursday, what would happen if either a man or woman underwent a gender transition while they were married.
She asked: “Given that the Church of England’s teaching about marriage is that it is a lifelong and exclusive union between one man and one woman, if one person in a couple undergoes gender transition, has consideration been given as to whether they are still married according to the teaching of the Church of England?”
The Bishop of Newcastle confirmed that the church would not deem such a marriage to be invalid if either a man or a woman later changes gender, adding that it would never press any couple to divorce.
The Right Rev Christine Hardman, chair of the Pastoral Advisory Group within the Church, said: “If a couple wish to remain married after one partner has transitioned, who are we to put them asunder?
She explained: “When a couple marry in church they promise before God to be faithful to each other for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, come what may, although we preach compassion if they find this too much to bear.
“Secondly, never in the history of the church has divorce been actively recommended as the way to resolve a problem. We have always prioritised fidelity, reconciliation and forgiveness, with divorce as a concession when staying together proves humanly unbearable.”
According to church policy, same-sex marriage is not allowed, however among couples wishing to marry – in which one partner holds a gender recognition certificate so that they are legally recognized as of opposite gender at the time of their vows- their marriage is considered valid.