Thursday, 14 April 2011

Love Is In The Air?

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Spring used to be the season when weddings took place somewhat unromantically to get the extra tax allowance that was available for many years. The deadline was the 5th April. At one church I was at we often had four weddings on each Saturday around Easter. Those days are gone and now people marry at any time during the year with no tax incentive. Church weddings have steadily decreased over the years as more and more secular venues have been given licences to conduct marriages,

A growing problem for clergy in the last few years has been the people who want to marry solely to obtain a visa for one of the participants. In the year or so before I retired I had a number of people call at the Vicarage asking to get married in what I can only describe as suspicious circumstances. The one consistent fact was that they all wanted to get married quickly with very short notice; sometimes only a matter of days and at the most 2 weeks and all of them said that cost would be no problem and - all of them I refused.

I remember one very well. The man and his potential wife called in one Friday evening asking to get married – the following Saturday week. I had many doubts about this couple, their body language possibly, and their demeanour. After talking to them for a time, I decided that there was nothing I could or would do and referred them to the Registrar’s Office. They declined on the basis that they wanted a church wedding and it was crucial that they had their wedding no later than the following Saturday. The man became more and more vociferous and produced his passport which was of little help to his cause as it just proved he was a citizen of Uganda whilst his visa showed his was a time limited student. The potential wife was black but British born and appeared very vague about everything. I obviously wasn’t going to get anywhere so I again suggested they visited the local Registrar’s Office and asked them to leave. It took me some time to get them out of the vicarage protesting that they didn’t want to go to the Registrar’s office and that I should conduct a wedding for them. I had grave doubts that they both even lived in the parish. I was convinced that this was a potential fake or sham marriage.

New Guide Lines should help clergy decide the best course of action to take when this situation arises. The BBC reports that: The Church of England is to issue new guidance to clergy in an attempt to reduce the number of sham marriages. In future, couples will have to apply for a licence if either the bride or groom is from a non-European country. Members of the clergy are also being urged to report any suspicions they have that the marriage is not genuine. Over the past nine months, 155 people have been arrested in the UK as a result of investigations into both church and civil ceremonies. The new guidance advises clergy not to publish banns - where a couple's intention to marry is read out in church - for marriages involving a man or a woman from a non-European country. Instead, it says couples should apply for a "common licence", which involves the swearing of affidavits and classes. The guidance issued by the House of Bishops - one of three houses in the General Synod - has UK Border Agency agreement. It says if a member of the clergy is not satisfied that the marriage is genuine, he or she must make that clear to the person responsible for granting the licence. Clergy should "immediately" report a couple to diocesan legal officers if they insist on having banns read rather than applying for a common licence under the guidance.

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