Clergy given veto on 'new gender' marriages

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The Independent Online

Ministers in the Church of England are to be given the right to refuse to conduct marriage ceremonies involving transsexuals.

The so-called conscience clauses are to accompany new legal recognition for transsexuals, which includes the right to marry in their adoptive sex and apply for substitute birth certificates showing their new gender.

But to allay fears in the Anglican Church about the impact of the reforms, priests will have the explicit right to refuse to officiate at a marriage ceremony if the bride or groom is a transsexual.

Lord Filkin, a minister in the Department for Constitutional Affairs, said the concession in the Gender Recognition Bill, published yesterday, had been made as a result of "disquiet" from some in the Church over the new rights.

The transsexual campaign group, Press for Change, said it welcomed the new rights. Claire McNab, vice-president of Press For Change, said: "[The Bill] appears to offer well- developed and fair solutions to all the issues raised. It clearly reflects the hard work which government has done to understand the needs and circumstances of the diverse transsexual population."

She added: "We particularly welcome the Bill's 'conscience clause' to allow church ministers to refuse to marry transsexual people. Freedom of religion is an important human right, and we hope that the churches will now support this long-overdue measure to protect the rights of transsexual people."

Transsexuals who want to register under their new gender will be able to apply to a new authorising body, the Gender Recognition Panel. They will have to meet medical criteria, give a sworn oath that they have lived in their new gender for at least a few years and that they intend to continue until death.

But transsexuals will not be required to have undergone surgery before applying to register under a different gender. It would be possible for someone born, for example, as a male to hold a female birth certificate, even if they retained male sex organs, as long as they satisfied the Gender Recognition Panel.

Press For Change said it was "deeply disappointed" that transsexual people who were already married would be required to dissolve their marriages before completing the legal recognition process.