The Church of England, whilst affirming the centrality of marriage to the stability and health of society and for the bringing up of children, recognises that there are some issues of hardship and vulnerability for people whose relationships are not based on marriage and that these need to be addressed by the creation of new legal rights.
Christian understandings of human relationships proceed from knowledge that God is love and one who is known in relationships. This is summed up in the doctrine of the Trinity and the biblical idea of covenant which exemplifies love, respect and mutual self-giving and applies particularly to our understandings of intimate relationships such as marriage. However, society in England is changing. There are many challenges to our understanding of marriage - the changes in attitude towards sexual activity linked with increasing acceptance of contraception, the increased number of couples who delay or choose not to marry but live together, the increase in single households, the increasing ability of women to be financially independent, the acceptance of divorce, deliberate childlessness, polygamy, the increasing acceptance of homosexuality and committed same sex relationships and the increasing variety of ways people live together, all mean that, in contemporary British society marriage is less of the norm.
In 2006 the Law Commission were asked by the Government to review the law surrounding the financial consequence of the separation of cohabiting couples.The Mission & Public Affairs Council submitted this response.
In February 2004 the General Synod of the Church of England debated a motion from the York Diocesan Synod on the issue of cohabitation more generally and the possible introduction of new legal forms of contractual relationship. For more information read the transcript of the debate in which the Synod approved by 248 votes to 27 a motion in the following terms:
'That this Synod:
a) strongly reaffirm that marriage is central to the stability and health of human society and warrants a unique place in the law of this country;
b) recognize that there are issues of hardship and vulnerability for people whose relationships are not based on marriage which need to be addressed by the creation of new legal rights; and
c) ask the Mission and Public Affairs Council to monitor future developments on these issues and report as necessary to Synod.'