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...The following is a hypothetical case, describing no real persons or events, presented for educational purposes only.

It was the kind of request that any pastor is accustomed to finding in her voicemail. "Reverend Swenson," the caller intoned with obvious joy, "Sherry and I have finally decided to get married, and we want you to do the service at the church." A simple request, yet this couple was different.  I had known them for about two years, since I met Hal at a local transgender support group where I functioned as facilitator.  Sherry has accompanied Hal many times to the support group, and the voicemail announcing their intention was not a surprise.  Hal was a female-to-male transsexual, a man who had been born with a female body.  Years of treatment with testosterone and cosmetic surgery had worked to allow Hal to present himself as a strikingly handsome young man.  And the magic had worked as Hal swept Sherry off her feet.  His "difference" mattered not to her.  It would be a beautiful wedding.

There was a problem, though. They would likely have no trouble getting a marriage license, since Hal's legal sex had been changed on his driver's license. And his handsomely masculine appearance would leave little room for doubt that this was a heterosexual marriage.  The problem was that our state (like all other 49 states) has not created any laws allowing people to legally change their sex.  Hal and Sherry were caught in no-person's land between lax adminsitative rules (for things like driver's licenses and birth certificates) in most states and resistance of legislatures to recognize the fact of sex change officially.  They could get married, and it would possibly -- if they were lucky -- work out.

But many have not been lucky. When the marriage becomes an issue at law -- for instance, when a large insurance settlement is at stake following an accidental death of one of the partners -- courts have consistently held that sex change is not recognized by law.  Thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act and the recent spate of states passing constitutional amendments rejecting same-sex marriage, these marriages are then declared to be illegal and are immediately annulled. Unhappy in-laws, lawsuits, tax courts, probate courts, and many other adversarial realities in our world create a pall of threat over every transgender marriage.

So all this played on my mind when Hal and Sherry left that joy-filled voice mail for me, asking if they could get married one fall day in the sanctuary of our small Presbyterian church.  What would I tell the session [i.e. church leadership] about this vital young couple, who were asking to have a Christian marriage in our sanctuary? What could I tell them? Could Hal or Sherry eventually be ordained as Elders [i.e. Presbyterian lay leaders]? What does the Book of Order (i.e. Presbyterian constitution] mean when it makes the "clear" assertion about marriage being between a man and a woman? And what if Hal had decided that he was gay, and wanted to be married to his male partner?  What then?

Our world and our church have a long way to go for our transgender friends.

©2007 Erin Swenson.  Originally published in More Light Update, Vol. 27, No. 3.  Provided as a part of TransFaith on-line with permission from the author.