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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 July, 2004, 22:11 GMT 23:11 UK
Church backs marriage changes
Wedding ring
Couples will be able to choose their church from 2007
The Church of England has said couples who want to marry in an Anglican church can choose where they would like the service to take place.

At the General Synod meeting in York, clerics said a bride and groom will no longer have to live or worship in a parish in order to use its church.

However, they must show a "demonstrable connection" to the parish.

But the Church of England has rejected plans that would alter the way its clergy were disciplined over doctrine.


The reforms will not be introduced until 2007 at the earliest because of the government's decision to review civil registration ceremonies.

The bride and groom will have to show that they either live in the parish, were baptised there or their parents were married there.

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
Bishop Martin Wharton, the Bishop of Newcastle

Following a report by the Church of England's Marriage Law Working Group, the General Synod voted in favour of the measure but rejected an amendment to allow the total deregulation of marriage.

The BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott said some clerics feel backing the reforms are vital to reversing a decline in weddings in Anglican churches.

Under the Marriage Act 1994, the law was changed to allow couples to marry outside churches or register offices.

This has meant more couples have chosen a civil marriage as opposed to a traditional church wedding.

At the meeting in York, Bishop Martin Wharton, the Bishop of Newcastle, said the General Synod had a real choice to make.

"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," the bishop told the Synod.

'Heresy courts'

Criminal justice, sentencing policy, church discipline and global poverty were also discussed at the meeting.

Clerics voted down a proposal to create so-called "heresy courts" that would simplify the way allegations of misconduct by the clergy are dealt with and could lead to the suspension of clergy, or even their dismissal from the priesthood.

Under the proposals, the courts, headed by bishops and advised by panels of theologians, would hear cases where priests were alleged to have erred on doctrine, ritual or ceremonial matters.

A number of such issues have proven controversial for the Church of England.

The proposal had caused concern among the church's more liberal wing, which feared it would have allowed traditionalists to enforce orthodox thinking.

The BBC's Robert Piggott
"Either bride or groom should show some connection with the parish"

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