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Bill may force couple's split; Four years after a sex change, Christine Timbrell can now obtain a new birth certificate legally recognising her as a woman. But to do so, it will mean divorcing her wife of 36 years, as Political Editor Jonathan Walker reports.

Byline: Jonathan Walker

More than three decades ago in an Anglican church, Christopher and Joy Timbrell took vows binding them together in marriage for life.

Four years ago, Christopher became a woman and is now known as Christine.

Legally however, Christine remains male on her birth certificate, meaning she could be sent to a male prison if found guilty of a crime and must explain her change of sex whenever she applies for car insurance.

That particular hurdle has been overcome as a result of the Government's Gender Recognition Bill, which allows Christine to claim a new birth certificate, official recognition of her changed gender.

But to obtain the certificate she would need to divorce Joy, because the Bill says same-sex marriages are not valid.

The pair, from Sutton Coldfield, are committed Christians who believe the marriage vows they took when Christine was a man should be binding for life.

Their case has been taken up by MP Andrew Mitchell (Con Sutton Coldfield), who urged the Government to amend the Bill.

But Ministers refused and Mr Mitchell's proposals were defeated in the Commons, after the Government ordered Labour MPs to vote against them.

The Bill has completed its progress through Parliament and is set to come into force once it receives Royal Assent.

Ministers argue that marriage is understood by society to mean a union between a man and a woman. They also point out that once the Bill comes into force, nobody will be forced to obtain a new birth certificate unless they choose to.

But the couple and their MP say that as they were man and woman when they married, an exception should be made for the small number of people who are in their position.

The pair have two children and two grandchildren. Christine Timbrell is a retired chartered accountant, aged 62. She now works part-time advising firms on how to accommodate transsexual employees.

Her wife Joy is a medical secretary, aged 61. She said: 'We are regular churchgoers.

'We took our vows, and we just feel divorce is not an option.'

There could also be financial implications. For example, Christine has a pension which would pass to her spouse upon her death.

The couple fear they would be disadvantaged even if they took advantage of new civil partnerships, which provide some of the same rights as marriage and are available to same-sex couples.

In any case, civil partnerships are seen as an option designed for gay or lesbian couples, which is not what Joy and Christine are.

Joy said: 'I'm afraid it is too late for the Bill to be changed. All we can do is hope the Government will sanction same-sex marriages, although it looks unlikely.

'There are so few of us that it wouldn't hurt to make an exception.

'The Government considers it has given us a choice, but what sort of choice is that?

'I don't think people realise the significance of getting that birth certificate. It is more than a bit of paper.

'The certificate is recognition that the trans-person is recognised as what they always felt they were.'

Mr Mitchell said: 'Under the Bill, either they will be obliged to divorce, which neither wishes to do, or Christine will remain wrongly gendered and unable to have the certificate to which the Bill refers and all that that implies.

'Against their will, their marriage will be 'put asunder'. That is wrong and an injustice to my constituents.'

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Joy Timbrell (left) and Christine Timbrell
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 29, 2004
Words:584
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