Marriage, divorce and a round of golf

Early last year I was talking to Jayne Ozanne about the Church of England’s Living in Love and Faith project (LLF).   For information about LLF click the link below.

Living in love and faith

Inevitably the phrase ‘long grass’ soon entered our conversation.  My expectation, at least, was that LLF would not solve the problems that the church of England is having in understanding sexuality, identity and relationships but that it might move the conversations forward.  It was that conversation with Jayne that led to the idea of thinking about the long grass like obstacles on a golf course. LLF might not get us to the clubhouse but it might move us onto the next hole on the course and a bit closer to a meal and a drink at the bar.  Or in my case a cup of Earl Grey tea (very Jean-Luc Picard).

This image of church progress like a golf course has been very helpful in seeing how things do develop in this long grass march.

With a lot of time on my hands during lockdown I was able to catch up on some reading, including the excellent, but expensive and very academic, The Church of England and Divorce in the Twentieth Century by Ann Sumner Holmes

I have found that trying to discuss same sex marriage or relationships with some in the Church of England is a waste of time.  As soon as the subject comes up, the conversation gets shut down quickly with bland sayings like ‘I believe marriage is between a man and a woman’ or ‘the Bible says its wrong’ etc.  No discussion, and a real unwillingness to engage with the big questions about what marriage actually is or what healthy relationships look like or what makes a Christian marriage.  To find what the Church of England thinks and believes about marriage, you have to look at divorce. 

The Church of England has produced lots of reports about marriage and divorce and then marriage, divorce and remarriage and then, after more long grass, marriage, divorce, remarriage and remarriage in church.  Lots of kicking the can down the road.  Reading Ann Sumner Holmes’s book, the roadmap became very familiar, the sexuality strategy has been played out before.  It took the Church of England from 1857 until 2002 to accept remarriage in church after divorce.  One hundred and forty-five years. 

As each new Church of England commission produced a report, which went to the dioceses who studied and wrote reports that needed working parties to collate and analyse and then report back on what had been decided, the debate moved slowly forward.  It moved slowly forward because the middle moved.  As people of influence had to engage with material before them on commissions they had to be challenged.  Those who couldn’t accept a report because it didn’t contain X [insert X of choice, parish clergy, working solicitors, marriage counsellors, academic theologians, ethicists etc] had their objections met or exposed for being simply intransigence. 

The path to the current position on divorce shows us the roadmap for the current debates.  In 1857 the Matrimonial causes Act introduced secular divorces by court order into this country.  It gave clergy the right to marry divorced people in church, but it gave them the opt out so no clergy were to be forced to carry out the marriage of a divorced person.  The opt out was personal, so they could not refuse to let their church be used by a different clergyman for the wedding.  It was the bishops who decreed that clergy could not carry out these marriages.

Then that eventually started to break down as parliament introduced further Acts affecting divorce and introduced the idea of the ‘innocent party’ to the divorce.  Then there was pressure on the church to allow the innocent parties to be able to remarry in church, then exceptional cases were allowed to remarry but there was no consensus on what the exceptional circumstances were and who could decide…  This led to that wonderful Anglican fudge of inconsistent practice.  That needed to be studied, of course.  Eventually it had become such a convoluted mess that there was no way to enforce any particular position.  So at the November 2002 General Synod synod voted to rescind the rules prohibiting remarriages and allowed clergy to exercise the right they had always had since 1857.

I took away some lessons from this:

One – parliament always moves first and the church always resists, but as the established church, it has to obey the laws eventually.

Two – the long grass runs out; each patch moves to the next hole and we will reach the clubhouse.

Three – the quadruple lock must go.  When clergy have the legal right to carry out all marriages then they will eventually be able to exercise that right.

Four – it is right that clergy can opt out of officiating marriages they feel is against their conscience, but the church is for all the people and must be for all marriages.  This means removing separate registrations for mixed sex and same sex marriages.  Registration for marriages would be for all marriages.

Five – Make the marriage preliminaries the same for everyone.  That way nobody can be treated differently from others.

With LLF materials soon to be published on November 9th, we are back on the fairway.  It has only taken since February 2017!  Let’s play this out and get through this hole and onto the next one.

Useful links

Marriage consultation paper, see especially chapter 9 . Clock the following link Marriage consultation

Online response form (till 2 December 2020)

by e-mail to; or

by post to Weddings Team, Law Commission, 1st Floor, 52 Queen Anne’s Gate, London, SW1H 9AG.

LLF materials

LLF book

Why I choose to write anonymously

I choose to write anonymously.  If you look through this site, you won’t find my name listed.  You will find things about me if you read through the blog posts and see what I have written elsewhere on the site, but my name is missing.  I think it is time to explain why.

When I first set up this website, I didn’t think about anonymity.  My mind was on what to call it, how to set up communication links, what I wanted it to look like and the structure of it.  Improving my IT skills was a big thing at the time, so that was where I was at.

However as time has moved on, some of the things I said have been taken up nationally and the profile of what I am doing has increased.  Only this morning I saw a new book that had a quote from me on the cover.  I have an audience for my work that has gone far wider than I could ever have expected. 

I have to recognise and acknowledge that being anonymous does come up in discussions.  I realise that some readers and discussers find anonymity affects credibility and gravitas.  It affects how they see what I write.  It changes the lens they put in front of the text.

Cyberspace can be a brutal place and the material I write about is exactly the sort of thing that brings out some of the worst trolling.  That level of abuse shuts down many voices in the debates.  Frankly I have had enough homophobic abuse in my life and I don’t need any more of it. 

Many of those around me know that I write and that this identity is mine, but not everyone.  Sometimes I get comments or messages from people I know in real life who don’t know this identity.  That can lead to some interesting real-life conversations!  And my real identity is out there, but perhaps a little more diplomatic.

Without this anonymity, I would be silenced by the abuse I know would come my way.  I know it would shut down the work I do here and impact the work I do locally and nationally.  Without using anonymity my voice would be silenced. 

I didn’t deliberately set out to operate this way, but as events have unfolded, it is the way that works for me.  Being able to put your name to controversial or difficult opinions is a luxury that not all of us can enjoy.  For some people speaking out will not be safe and their voices need to be heard too.

There is a dark side to anonymity and I acknowledge that.  If anonymity is used to threaten and abuse others, then that is something that should not be tolerated.  But for some of us anonymity is that only way that our voices can be heard.  So I will continue to write this way because I have something to say and a voice that needs to be heard too.