LONDON - The Church of England, after considering new proposals that would relax the rules on marriage, has come to a compromise. The topic under debate was whether to allow couples to be married in the church of their choice, as opposed to the current rule which only allows marriages to take place in a church if the bride or groom lives or worships in that particular Parish.
The Church has now said that couples who want to marry in an Anglican Church can choose where they would like the service to take place. Therefore, a bride and groom will no longer have to live or worship in a parish to use its church. However, the compromise came in the form that a "demonstrable connection" to the parish must be shown.
The debate developed as the General Synod met in York to discuss the issue of relaxing marriage rules, and setting up courts to enforce traditional doctrine.
Over the past 20 years, statistics show that weddings in Anglican churches have dropped by 50%. Many believe this may have to do with the restrictions on where a couple can be married. Previously if a couple wished to be wed in a Parish that neither lives or worships, then a special license had to be sought and applied for.
The Church of England's governing body, The Synod, gave its approval to a "demonstrable connection" option, which allows people to marry in parishes if they can show they live in the parish, were baptized there or their parents were married there.
The reforms will not be introduced until 2007 at the earliest because of the government's decision to review civil registration ceremonies.
Rev. George Nairn-Briggs, the Dean of Wakefield and a member of the marriage law working group had indicated his views that the Church needed to become more user-friendly.
He said, "Couples these days say they do not necessarily want to get married in the area in which they live. People have become more mobile and we want to reflect that."
The reverend continued, "Since the civil law changed and people have been able to get married in other places the numbers marrying in churches have dropped."
However, there are concerns that many churches in more picturesque settings would draw away all the bookings, and leave the less attractive churches with hardly any.
Following a report by the Church of England's Marriage Law working Group, the General Synod voted in favor of the measure, but rejected a total deregulation of the marriage rule.
At the meeting in York, Bishop Martin Wharton, the Bishop of Newcastle, said "Couples who can prove that they meet one of the criteria clearly set out, will have the right to be married in that parish church, whatever and wherever their current place of residence. And if they meet the criteria they not only deserve to receive a warm and welcoming response from the clergy, they have the legal right to expect it."
Canon Nicholas Feist, Team Rector of Middleton, Manchester, said: “Let’s get real in the year 2004. Let’s vote for deregulation and do all we can to encourage couples to marry in church before God.”
The General Synod's meeting in York will close today, July 13.