Thursday, 16 December 2010



The Marriage and Partnership Regulations Measure2040

Opening the debate about the rules governing marriage and relationships, The Venerable Dorcus Thorogood s proposed the Measure which will allow a couple, male and male, female and female, and male and female to enter a trial period before actual marriage. This will be known as a Trial Marriage whereby the couples cohabit prior to the date of their wedding. It was, she asserted, a way to prevent, or, at least minimise, divorce and would involve a service with a blessing in church. The fact that most couples these days did, in fact, live together before marriage meant that the church was now recognising, and responding in a pastoral way, to an existing situation. Moving on to the second clause M/s Throrogood expanded the view that there were no theological objections to polygamous marriage which this new measure seeks to introduce. To the contrary, she pointed to many references in the Old Testament that would justify this view. The Bishop of Ramsbottom supported the Venerable Thorogood saying he thought it was great that young couples could be together without the ties of formal marriage. He pointed out that he and his partner Stewart had been in this sort of relationship for many years and were now thinking about entering the state of marriage. However he didn’t rule out the possibility that he or his partner might take an additional partner in the future

Opposition came from Ted Sulky (Silchester) who reckoned one wife was more than enough. He had been married to the same woman for twenty five years and that had been bad enough. He regretted that he hadn’t entered a Trial Marriage all those years ago as that could have prevented his present situation. To laughter, he said he couldn’t envisage a situation where he would take another partner which could possibly double the amount of nagging he had to put up with plus the expenses he could ill afford. The Revd. Mary Oates (Chilworthy) proposed an amendment that would include polyandry or group marriages as well as polygamy. This she asserted was only fair. The amendment was accepted without division.

The Venerable Josie Stien (Liturgical Commission) said that the Commission was already working on the new liturgy that would be needed should Synod agree this innovation. The Revd. Sandra Dolittle supported the Measure saying that she knew of many couples who would take further partners if the church agreed it was perfectly all right to do so. It would save all those extra-marital problems that happened when one or other partner of the marriage had an affair. It was important though, that the other partner agreed that taking a further partner was agreeable to them.

The Bishop of Bransbury endorsed the new measure with some reservations. He wanted to know who would sort out the situation in a Group Marriage when one of the three or four partners wanted a divorce. He could foresee difficult situations arising not least if children were involved. The Rev. Michael Toogood said he objected to this new measure and that he spoke for a sizeable number of colleagues who would not be prepared to officiate at any ceremony which endorsed either premarital co-habitation or Group marriages. He asked for provision to be made for those, who on conscientious grounds, would never participate in such a travesty of the sacrament of Marriage. Several others rose to speak in support of Toogood.

In a compromise move the Archbishop of York Angela Duffy suggested that a Committee should be appointed that would work on this so that a Code of Practice could be implemented. She thought it was essential that Trial Marriages should be started with a church service as this would increase Fee Revenue. With funds in such a parlous state this would produce a substantial amount in any fiscal year. The Revd. Dr. Entwhistle (Silchester) objected to a Code of Practice. It just would not do. Synod, he argued must make some provision for those who found themselves in the unfortunate position outlined by the by a previous speaker which had the force of law. A Code of Practice would allow various Bishops and Clergy to invent their own rules

The Revd. Silas Goodpenny proposed an amendment which would allow people to separate without an actual divorce. This would run for a period of up to five years and this would give the various parties to try to settle their difficulties amicably. The amendment was narrowly defeated in all three houses.

In her final speech the Archbishop of Canterbury said that people had to realise that when General Synod made a decision like this which did have some controversial aspects to it, that those who would not, or could not, implement it in their parishes should have the right to not do so. But that didn’t mean that there could be some areas where people who wanted to avail themselves of these new rules could not do so either. A Code of Practice which allowed a priest to opt out should also make provision for a visiting member of the clergy to come in from a neighbouring parish to officiate. She hoped Synod would trust a committee to device a Code of Practice

The substantive motion was then put to Synod who approved the measure by a very small margin in all three houses even though a small but vociferous group chanted “A Code of Practice will not do”. It will come into effect at Easter 2041.

More from the latest meeting of General Synod in a later edition.

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