Gender Recognition Act Church of England Trans same-sex gay marriage
Freedom of Religion

Gender Recognition Act: could reform be used to impose same-sex marriage on the Church of England?

“This week we will also complete our consultation on plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act,” the Prime Minister confirmed in her video message at the Pink News Awards last night.” There is a real desire reform, she explained, in order to tackle discrimination against LGBT people. The objective is that all couples – same-sex or opposite-sex – “are given the same choices in life”, which will bring redress for the “burning injustices” which LGBT people have suffered.

It is increasingly widely averred that one of those burning injustices to which LGBT people are subject is that the Church of England is prohibited by statute from performing services of same-sex marriage. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples Act) 2013 enshrined certain protections for clergy in the Church of England and the Church in Wales, to take account of the specific legal duty they have to marry parishioners. The exemption was a guarantee against imposition, and afforded the protection of Canon law. It didn’t privilege these churches, but ensured equality with every other religious community in the UK, which are at liberty to choose whether to perform same-sex weddings or not. The Church of England is free to do so, but it would require an Amending Canon to be brought to Synod to amend Canon law (along with a Measure to amend the Book of Common Prayer and primary legislation as necessary, all subject to parliamentary approval [which would not be withheld, by virtue of the Equality Act 2010]).

But the proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 may circumvent these protections.

Proposals include the abolition of medical diagnoses or the presentation of evidence by which trans people may have their new identity legally recognised. The focus is to be on ‘self-determination’ (including, some demand, for 16-17-year olds) because the current process is “bureaucratic, expensive and intrusive” (Gov.uk). Presently, in order to transition lawfully, there must be a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria; the person must spend two years living as the sex they feel they are; and then a ‘Gender Recognition Panel’ must be presented with the evidence and persuaded that the transition is valid and necessary.

You may think these to be sensible protections to safeguard the vulnerable, but if you are trans, they are undoubtedly “bureaucratic, expensive and intrusive”. What heterosexual Christian would want a state-authorised panel sitting in judgment to determine their emotional, psychological, sexual or religious identity?

But if such processes are to be abolished, what protection would there be for Church of England clergy?

If an apparent man and woman present themselves at a vicarage asking to be married, and it transpires that both are, in fact, biologically male, would a vicar be permitted to decline to marry them? The question would no longer be hypothetical if the one presenting as a woman were able to produce a certificate ‘proving’ that he is, in fact, ‘she’. What protection would there then be under the law for the vicar to say: “No, you are both male. I cannot marry you, because I believe, according to Scripture and Canon law, that marriage is a union of one man and one woman”?

That would amount to homophobia, religious bigotry and hate, would it not?

Would the couple cry ‘discrimination’ or ‘burning injustice’? Would they be able to take the vicar to court, miring his ministry in four interminable years of emotional and spiritual purgatory before a judgment against him might be appealed and reach the Supreme Court? Might, in fact, the proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act simply be a mechanism to discredit those who believe the creational truth about biology, chromosomology and physiology, if not behavioural neuroscience or psychology; namely, that men are men, and women are women, and that intersex is a very rare condition indeed, and surgery does not change someone’s chromosomal biology, nor can someone claim to be a member of the opposite sex simply because they ‘self-identify’ as one?

Of course, merely to raise this question risks the ire of certain LGBT lobby groups who think ‘religious’ sorts are a basically branch of the far-right, and that anyone who expresses such concerns holds a hateful doctrine of God, who is more anti-trans progress than pro-love. But “gender identity does not cancel out sex: to deny the relevance of biology when considering sexual inequality is a mistake”.

Those aren’t the words of a religious bigot or a right-wing homophobe: they are taken from the Guardian‘s view of the Gender Recognition Act.

When even the Guardian is raising concerns about the collision of rights in the ever-expanding morass of groups competing for rights supremacy, it becomes evident that perhaps things have gone a little too far. The Guardian is not remotely concerned with protecting Anglican clergy, of course: their worries relate to such possibilities (indeed, actualities) as violent trans women (ie biological men) taking advantage of an ease of legal transition in order to access all-women facilities, such as prisons, changing rooms or refuges for the homeless, raped and vulnerable.

What this boils down to is whether (or to what extent) a trans woman is a woman. If transgender prisoners should (sensibly) be allocated according to natal sex, should transgender athletes be restricted to compete according to their natal sex? How otherwise do you guard against principled objections to a trans woman (ie a biological man) wiping the floor with biologically female weightlifters; or a trans woman (ie a biological man) winning a world cycling championship because her thighs are basically those of a rugby player who’s spent half a decade squatting with barbells?

If, as the Guardian now (refreshingly) advances, it is a mistake to ignore the relevance of biology when considering sexual inequality, might MPs and Peers (and especially the Lords Spiritual) ensure that Anglican clergy in England and Wales are not put in a position of being obliged to marry two biological men or two biological women? Could they ensure that those who believe marriage to be a sacrament – a natural and sacred union of male and female – may not be harassed, entrapped or otherwise coerced into joining together those whom God might prefer to remain asunder?