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Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 11:13 GMT
Age-gap marriages: Can they work?
A minister in England has refused to marry a 54-year-old bride-to-be because her fiancÚ is only 27.

Grandmother Ellen Channon wanted to marry Peter Wellens in a church wedding because her first marriage was conducted in a register office.

But United Reformed church minister Ruth Wollaston said their union was "ill-advised" even though the couple have lived together for seven years.

Mr Wellens says he believes the Church would have allowed the wedding if he had been the older partner.

Do you think the minister was right to refuse to conduct the wedding? Can "May to December" marriages work?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Well done the church again. Totally out of touch with the modern day world, and then they wonder why the number of churchgoers is diminishing! This minister wants to wake up, and realise that true love is what actually makes a marriage.
Keith Simpson, UK

Age gap marriages can work. My husband is 20 years older than me and we have been married for 28 years. I am now 56 and he is 76. Age is only a barrier if you make it so - sometimes as an excuse for other problems.
Helen C, Scotland

If the bloke was 54 would anyone turn a hair? It's that old double standard alive and well in the 21st century.
Cathy, UK

Both my parents married people much younger than themselves after they divorced. My stepfather was only 11 years older than me, and my stepmother is only 7 years older than me. It has certainly worked out better for my Dad than for my mother. My Dad now has two more children and is still married after 11 years. However my stepfather went off with another woman. It is easier when the man is the older party because there can be children, who make more of a family out of the union. But mainly I think my stepfather was a louse!
Louise, UK

What a storm in a tea cup. The church has no obligation to marry anyone, be they divorced, different ages etc. This couple can find an alternative church or use a registry office, why is it such a big deal. I can only say I wish them all the best and a long life together.
James Jeffrey, USA, but English

I think it disgraceful that these two people's love is judged on the petty issue of age. My mother is 20 years older than my father and they are still happily together after 32 years of marriage. They should be allowed to marry in a church is that is their wish, and no one has the right to say otherwise.
Jane Marshall, England

The age issue is always more important to those outside the relationship than the people concerned

Christine Donnelly, UK
I think the minister was wrong not to marry this couple - age should not be the issue. I met my partner in a Tesco supermarket (romance can blossom over the fruit & veg!) when he invited me to his birthday party - he was 19, I was 32. On 7th May this year, we will have been together for 20 years - and people said it wouldn't last ...!
Hilary, Wales

Interesting comments about age difference.What kills any relationship are those every day niggling problems, taking care of them is the secret for any longstanding relationship. Divorced after 32 years I find that I need a companion second time round allowing me to pursue my hobbies etc. In the 21st century millions of retired people will be alone & POOR so perhaps right now we must start thinking about tomorrow.Tolerence is essential.
Roy Dibden, France

My husband Gavin and I got together when he was 18 and I was 29. Twenty years on we are still together and have been married for 11 years. We have had our share of problems, like all couples, but they were never age-related. The biggest opponent of our relationship is and always has been Gavin's mother. That is a bone of contention that will never go away so we have done our best to avoid confrontation. I love my husband dearly and I know he feels the same way about me. The age issue is always more important to those outside the relationship than the people concerned.
Christine Donnelly, UK

As adults, and having been together for a considerable period, I think they should be trusted to make a considered and sensible decision for themselves.
Chloe, England

I am a Methodist pastor and have always told couples I do not marry them, they marry one another. I simply preside over their ceremony. The true responsibility for making a marriage work rests with the couple. My pre-marital counselling gives them objective views that will help. I have only turned down two couples in my twenty years as a pastor. One involved domestic violence, which neither person would address. The other was a couple who wanted a church wedding but wanted no religious language.
Tim Lusk, USA

Forget the age issue. Why does a couple who have been living together for seven years want a church wedding? The Minister should have declined on that basis, not on the age issue. Churches ought to be more than attractive venues. They ought to be places where God's word and his truth mean something.
Robynne, USA

The church decided that the age gap was obviously and disgustingly blasphemous. At what stage do you let religion run things even though they are not in the bible? It is a disgrace that the church deems itself powerful enough to make up rules to the detriment of loving people. Where do we draw the line? Show me the verse in the bible that says that age difference is a sin.
Mark, UK

Oh dear, where would we all be and what would we be doing with our lives without the moral guardians of religion dictating their petty dos and don'ts to us? Where are the church leaders who would dare to stand up and bar political or business people who lie, cheat and use sharp practices from their churches? Where is the church leader brave enough to bar malicious gossips from their churches? My point is that these people can use church to clean the slate on Sundays thereby freeing themselves up to be themselves again until the next time. I write as someone who spent many years in churches and now live in a part of the world where people are killing in the name of religion. I don't agree with Karl Marx on much but 'The Opiate of the Masses' was a pretty accurate way to describe religion. And like the drug dealer religious leaders only dole out the drug to those who do as they're told.
Mark, India

John and Marjorie met when he was 17 and she was 32. Absolute outcry because of the age gap. So what happened? 36 years on they still spend every day together and have two daughters of 33 and 27 (I'm the latter) Who says it doesn't work?
Rebecca, UK

She doesn't want to be alone, and he doesn't know any better as he was to young at the start! The church was right to refuse to marry them. It wouldn't work out in the extreme long run. The poor bloke would never live a full life, and regret it in a few years time anyway.
Rhian M, England

Age is just a number in the 21st Century. That rare commodity, happiness is the really important element. Good luck to them!
Stuart Rogerson, UK

The church's stance is negative and liable to have a potentially damaging effect on two people hitherto presumably feeling positive and happy

Nicky S, UK
Many marriages are ill advised, as evidenced by increasing divorce rates. However, the decision to marry is up to the two adults involved. The church's stance is negative and liable to have a potentially damaging effect on two people hitherto presumably feeling positive and happy. Such a condemnation can only reflect badly on an out of touch Church. Perhaps the Church would prefer to arrange marriages between predetermined candidates it deems suitable?
Nicky S, UK

Blatant foolishness on the part of this minister. It's not for her to judge suitability of a couple. As to the age gap, that's anyone's guess. It all depends on the commitment of the couple concerned; which is true of any relationship.
Rob, UK

As an atheist who doesn't believe in marriage, I find it odd to be supporting the decision of a minister, but isn't the key to this that the bride-to-be wants " a church wedding because her first marriage was conducted in a register office"? That doesn't seem to be any sound basis for participating in a religious ritual. Isn't it more "my last reception was in a pub, so this time I want it in a hotel"?
Martin Barrett, UK

Why is OK for an 80-year-old man to marry a 20 something woman but the other way around a problem?

Janeen, USA
If the man were 54 and the women 27 -would the minister have even asked a question let alone refused - not likely. Why is OK for an 80-year-old man to marry a 20 something woman but the other way around a problem?
Janeen, USA

Both are adults, of opposite sex and want to get married. What's immoral about that? I think the minister is prejudiced against women and that's immoral.

Absolutely pathetic. If they were turned down for not being regular churchgoers, fine. But if it is simply because of the age gap, it is unjustified. Some ministers are so out of touch with modern life it is unreal, and it is because of a similarly frustrating experience that I will not have my child baptised in the Catholic faith and am changing to a more inclusive denomination. The Church needs to face up to reality: with attendance falling, they can do without putting off existing or prospective worshippers.
Olga M, London, UK

The minister should not have a say regarding age, race, religion. His bias should not come into it. Glad he is a religious man!
Desmond Bradbury, U.S.A.

I think love is everything no matter what your age.
Sinsin, Malaysia

Age is irrelevant to marriage.
Dave Adams, USA

About the church, its attitude depresses but it's nothing new. I know I'm simplifying, but church ministers seem convinced that churchgoers are at their service - shouldn't it be the other way round? And, about the couple, my long-term boyfriend is only 3.5 years younger than me, and we constantly get amazed looks, raised eyebrows and the like! A female acquaintance asked "Why are you with someone so young?" (obvious answer: I love him!), a colleague even pointed out that "A man in his twenties is unstable". What? I am much more scared of the long list of thirtysomethings without a clue I've met and dated before, when no one objected to a 9 or 12-year age gap - as long as he was older! A person's maturity is not defined by their age, and every story is different. Why is judging one of the world's favourite pastimes? I wish only the best to Ellen and Peter -whatever they decide to do in the end.
Stephanie, Italy

At 27 he is old enough to decide for himself, the 7 years they have been together is a lot longer than most couples manage, good luck to them both.
Pete, Wales

I think that minister is out of line. One can marry regardless of age, so long as there is genuine LOVE.
Eileen, Puerto Rico, USA

I estimate God is at least 14 billion years old. Does the Church suggest our relationship with Him is also "ill-advised"?
Robert Crisp, UK (currently in Spain)

It's surprising considering so many of the clergy seem to be physically attracted to people several years their junior.
Steve B, Scotland

I am 12 years older than my husband and we have been together for 11 years so far. The interesting thing is that many people express surprise and sometimes disapproval of our age gap, but make no comment whatsoever about my brother who is married to a woman who is 10 years his junior.
Kate, UK

What does age matter in the great eternal scheme of things?

Victoria McMahon, England
If the minister believes in an afterlife, as I'm sure she does, what does age matter in the great eternal scheme of things? A couple of decades doesn't matter in the eyes of God, and more importantly in the eyes of love!
Victoria McMahon, England

I would treat Wollaston's comments the same way I would treat any other tradesperson's refusal of work. If she doesn't want the job, dig out Yellow Pages and find someone else who will.
Richard Archer, Essex

My wife is in her thirties and she reckons that mentally, I am about six. We get on OK though. The minister is well within her rights to refuse to marry them in her church. However, a compassionless action of this kind from a "professional Christian" only reinforces my own atheist leanings.
James Crosby, Telford, UK

If the Church stopped more unsuitable marriages then the divorce rate would not be so high

Nikki, UK
The Church has every right to refuse them. If the Church stopped more patently unsuitable marriages in the first instance then maybe the divorce rate would not be so high. They can always get married in a registry office if they are so determined. My opinion is that it simply won't work.
Nikki, UK

In my younger life, I was always attracted by and had excellent relationships with older men. Due to negative comments about age difference, I wound up marrying a man close in age to myself. Age difference is not about years, but about lifestyle and attitude. My husband is the "oldest" man, yet the "youngest" in years. Go with your heart and not the status quo! Best wishes to anyone who can find a soul mate, regardless of age difference!
Angela, Canada

He's obviously a bit messed up and deep down just needs a mother figure in his life.
Steve, UK

Where in the Bible does it say that a large age gap is wrong?

My husband is 23 years my senior and we have been together 30 years - but they said it wouldn't last! If they have been together seven years and are seeking a church wedding, I fail to see why the minister should deny them. Where in the Bible does it say that a large age gap is wrong?

In another report of this case, the minister and a colleague with whom she took counsel both stated that they felt "something was not right." As a minister, I wouldn't conduct the marriage ceremony if after careful consideration I felt something was not right. The age difference is in itself no reason to refuse marriage and it seems that the reason given does not paint a reliable picture of the whole situation with which Ms Wollaston was confronted.
Dave, Wales

Of course they shouldn't. In 10 years time she'll be 64 and he'll only be 37....I can't believe he'll still find her attractive.
Lee, England

He's 27, and an adult, and is quite capable of choosing his life path.
Stella Hunt, Canada

There is no model union

Chris , Sweden (UK)
Judgement should not be passed on the basis of age difference. We live in a modern society where we are starting to appreciate that there is no model union. It saddens me that those who profess to promote harmony and love amongst individuals feel that they have they right to judge the love felt between two people in what is a short life on earth. We only have one chance at this and we should all exercise our free right to live our lives as we wish within given boundaries. Wake up Ms Wollaston and stop dragging us back into the dark ages.
Yours furiously,
Chris , Sweden (UK)

One could hardly expect a single, female minister to understand anything about marriage. Good luck to the couple. May their marriage be as happy as mine.
Chris Klein, UK

The Church doesn't exist to carry out marriage on demand

Church is like most things - you've got to be in it to win it. Why do people who can't be bothered to go to church think that they can pass comment on its activities and decisions? Sounds like an absolute cheek to me. The Church doesn't exist to extract money from people, or to trick people into coming via fancy marketing, or to carry out marriage on demand or to be so popular that it threatens the livelihood of the local publican. The Church exists to know God and to make Him known. Occasionally that ruffles feathers, so be it.

Interesting that this marriage has been refused when the older partner is a woman. Just goes to show how stubbornly old-fashioned attitudes towards marriage and gender seem to cling, and how far women still have to go to get true equality even in this country.
Caroline, UK

I thought that the Church believed in not judging people?

Tina Cowen, UK
I thought that the Church believed in not judging people? How can the minister make a judgement about two people in love based purely on their age? A large age gap does not instantly exclude the ability to love. If the minister had stated that the reason for not marrying them was the fact that she was a divorcee then people would be more likely to understand.
Tina Cowen, UK

My dad married my mum when he was 47 and she was 29. They celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary last year. My brother and I feel happy and we are, and always have been, in a stable home. Isn't that what the Church promotes? Age gap marriages can work as well as with people of the same age. I think the minister should relent and marry them. What's the difference between them and two 25-year-olds getting married, as long as they are happy and their relationship is strong?
Dawn, UK

Age gap relationships are difficult. Speaking from personal experience, I have found that the approach to life is somewhat different, and expectations can be very different. The younger person tends to be planning ahead much more than the older person. The older is looking forward to things like retirement, taking life a little slower, whilst the younger tends to be thinking about the accomplishments they would like to run for. It is rare that these two areas can be reconciled.
Simon D, United Kingdom

A similar thing happened to me. When I married my wife, I was 51, she was 22. My local minister refused to marry us, despite my being a member of that congregation for most of my life. Eventually we married in neighbouring parish. Fourteen years later we're still together and very much in love. We have two wonderful children and a happy home. She has a career and I retired early to become a house husband. Those who said all those years ago that we would never last have been proven wrong, and I wish the same sort of happiness to Ellen and Peter.
Simon D, London, UK

It will never work

Of course not. It will never work. The man is too young for her. He will leave her as soon as he finds a nice pretty young lady.

The main issue here is the short-sightedness of the Church and others to think that age is everything in a relationship. He's been with her for seven years and I'm sure plenty of nice pretty young ladies have already come along to tempt him and he hasn't left yet.
Melinda, England

If an older man marries a much younger woman, the implicit assumption is gold-digging. If the reverse occurs, the woman is accused of pursuing some bizarre matronly fantasy for a toy-boy. Why can't people just accept that couples fall in love and wish to remain together?
Peter Sykes, England

Whilst I think that the minister was being rather silly and naive, the church is not obliged to marry couples. The church is not a public service funded by tax-payers' money like a registry office so it has every right to refuse. That being said, I hope the couple do find somewhere nice to get married and wish them all the best and many happy years together.
Paul, England

Seven years should be enough proof of their commitment

Gill, UK
If they have been together for seven years that should be enough proof of their commitment. That's longer than most marriages last these days anyway. I thought the Church was meant to be trying to attract us, not scare us off with their moral hypocrisy! If I were them I'd forget that church and go elsewhere, not only for the wedding but for all family occasions and when the church loses out in the coffers they might not be so judgmental!
Gill, UK

Absolutely not. My wife is 51 and I am 29. Where is the crime in that? We are very happy and undertake the view "till death do us part" very strongly like any other married couple.
Mark Blackburn, Essex, UK

The decision to conduct a wedding is entirely up to the minister and Ms Wollaston is under no obligation to act contrary to her own appraisal and judgement of the situation. However, I will temper that comment by saying that this minister's refusal seems fairly typical of the Church's overbearing and out of touch attitude - and neatly illustrates one reason why we have empty churches and full pubs.
Chris B, England

I don't think the landlord of my local pub would marry a couple with a 27 year age gap either... then again, who'd ASK him.
Alcuin, UK

Only one point - when he is 47 she will be 74. Depends on how a 47 year old guy likes the idea of wife who is almost 80. Not for me - but there are a few women out there who look good at 74 - but most look...74!
Geof Jones, USA

I think it's absolutely disgraceful that anyone can make a judgement on another couples "potential" marriage span, especially someone from the church. What gives them the right to make such assumptions? It seems to me these days the more "compatible in age" you are, the less likely you are to have a successful marriage. Yet again it appears that "religion" steps in to cause upset. Look at the state of the world and all the fighting. Perhaps in the 21st Century religions and their clergy should be kept out of any discussions.
Ellie, UK

No church should concern its self with pubic opinion. What is the point of having ministers and priests if they refuse to make moral judgments? Ministers have a responsibility to make responsible choices about whom they marry. They should not be condemned for making mature choices.
John Fahey, USA

Surely church weddings are for those who feel that God and his teachings play a major part in their lives.

Jennifer, UK
I am curious as to why they are so keen on a church wedding if they have been living together for seven years already. Surely church weddings are for those who feel that God and his teachings play a major part in their lives. But alas too many people nowadays have church weddings purely for the photographs and the nice long aisle to walk down while they show off their new outfits. I am not at all religious so a church wedding was not something I ever considered when we married last year. We were living together before we married and had a simple but very meaningful and personal civil ceremony.
Jennifer, UK

If their love is based on something deeper than looks, then why should JK think that the man will leave as soon as he finds a "pretty young lady"? I also thought that God looks at the heart. The minister doesn't seem to be looking at the hearts in this situation. Also, Jesus seemed to be the most condemning of the self-righteous, pious, judgemental religious leaders of His day. Think about it! I am 26 years older than my husband, and we are completely in love and incredibly happy. I was previously married to a man close to my age and was miserable. Age is not a great determiner of lasting love.
Melodee, U.S.A.

I believe Mr. Wellen may have hit the nail on the head when he expressed his opinion that the couple's age gap was the reason for the churches refusal. It saddens me to think that a church and its representative can sit in judgement and refuse to unite an obviously committed couple in marriage. My husband and I have a 20+ year age gap and have been very happily together for nearly 4 years now. We both feel strongly that age gap relations as a whole are often times not understood by the public at large. The reality of the situation is this...age gap relationships are actually no different than age equal relationships. My husband and I carry on our day to day lives just like everyone else around us. We pay bills and work and love one another. Reading this story makes me all the more thankful that we apparently are in a more tolerant area of the world where love can be considered ageless. Thank you.
Jan D, USA

As a Christian who believes very strongly in marriage, I find it odd to be agreeing with Martin Barrett (the atheist, non-marriage believer). The fact that they have been living together for 7 years shows that they have no real respect for marriage other than wanting a showy church wedding. The minister is 100% right for refusing to conduct the service for this reason, irrespective of their ages.
Jeff Aston, UK

No one is stopping this couple getting married. However, I think that the minister is entitled to her opinion and refuse to marry them in church on the grounds that one of them has been married before, they have lived out of wedlock for seven years and there is no chance of them having children which is regarded as central to a Christian marriage. Sure, this does not reflect the way many people live their lives today, but the Church is not there to meekly approve everyone's chosen lifestyle.

The fact that this couple have gone to the press, displays a lack of maturity, which is maybe the reason they were turned down in the first place.
David E Flavell, Liverpool, England

My husband is 9 years younger than me and we have been together for 7 years, married for the last 4. So I say good luck to Peter and Ellen. My concern is more that Ellen's reason for getting married in church is not a religious choice, but because she was married in a registry office the first time around. Call me old-fashioned if you like (I'm in my 30s) but shouldn't being married in the eyes of God be the reason for getting married in church? If they want a posh do, pick a civil ceremony in a country home or somewhere like that.
Julie, USA (UK)

The lady in question has already been married which the church finds difficult to reconcile due to the fact you can only legitimately say "til death to us part" once

Peter B, US \ England
Firstly, I'd be interested to listen to what the minister has actually said, rather than the "ill-advised" soundbite. Secondly, I would suggest to most of those that condemn the church of this decision to actually take part in a church to influence it. If someone came into your home once every couple of years and demanded you decorate, would you? However, if it was your partner who wanted to decorate then you'd be more eager. The church is so much more than just a nice building to get nice wedding photos. Finally, the lady in question has already been married which the church finds difficult to reconcile due to the fact you can only legitimately say "til death to us part" once.
Peter B, US \ England

In response to Gill, UK. The fact that they have been living together for seven years is exactly why the church shouldn't be marrying them. This is not moral hypocrisy, but a moral stand. No doubt they will be able to find a church that will marry them and perform other 'family occasions'. I thought churches were primarily a place of worship rather than fun places to be rented out (along with the minister) to anybody with enough cash. As for being judgmental, it's about time somebody was. The Bible is not anti-judgmental as a lot of liberals would try to have us believe, but to judge as we would want to be judged (i.e. fairly).
Andy Charter, England

In a society where divorce rates are getting higher all the time, I think that any type of preparation for marriage that the church (or even, dare I say it, government gives) should be applauded. If a church has interviewed the engaged couple and find any reason for not marrying them, then it should be respected for acting in the couple's best interests. The fact that registry offices will marry anyone without asking any questions about their sincerity is much more worrying. Presumably in this case, the church had reservations about this couples ultimate happiness, and the age gap was the biggest cause of concern.
Carol, USA formerly UK and Ireland

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