Cohabiting couples and those in same-sex relationships can provide an equally loving environment in which to raise a child as married couples - and therefore should not be barred from receiving IVF treatment, the Church decided yesterday.
An overwhelming majority of Synod members approved an amendment to the motion on human fertilisation so that it acknowledged that "some couples seem to be in that relationship (ie marriage) in all but name." The amendment was proposed by the Rev Cannon Dr John Polkinghorne, retired professor of physics at Queens' College, Cambridge, and chair of the Church's medical ethics committee.
In the debate, Dr Polkinghorne insisted the Christian response to the issue of IVF should be "positive affirmation rather than any form of negative absolutism." He continued: The diversity of circumstance in which a couple can bring a child into the world and provide that child with a stable upbringing means that such a subject cannot be reduced to one line answers." Marriage was the best - but no the only - environment in which to bring up children.
"As Christians, we certainly believe the lifelong institution of marriage provides the ideal for all procreation," he said, adding that "there are today many couples of manifest stable commitment who do not choose to undergo a legal and public affirmation of marriage."
The original wording of the motion, proposed by Keith Masters, an obstetrician and gynaecologist from the Lichfield diocese, recommended that the Church's guidelines on IVF should state that "the procedures should be used only to treat cases of infertility in married couples with stable and continuing heterosexual relationships." When Dr Polkinghorne raised his objections to the exclusive phrasing, Mr Masters thanked him for bringing the motion "up to date".
Last year the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, who was at the debate, criticised cohabitation and reasserted that there should be no sex outside marriage. After the debate Dr Polkinghorne elaborated on his position on the eligibility for treatment of same-sex relationships. He did not rule out IVF for homosexuals: "I don't think moral judgement proceeds by a big check-list ... a supportive relationship with two same-sex people is clearly better than an utterly destructive relationship of a ... heterosexual couple."
The Church did, however, adopt a strong line on a menopause cut-off point. Members voted to limit availability of IVF to women of a child-bearing age.