Sunday, 10 August 2008

Love in Cleethorpes

I was involved in issuing four marriage licences last week. It used to be only one or two a year. The other clergyman authorised to do this locally also reports the same new pattern of requests.

Most Church of England weddings don’t involve a licence at all. We retain the quaint sense that we all live in small communities and many people can’t read, so we go on giving notice by ‘publishing banns of marriage’ (reading out at worship on three Sundays the names of those to be married); it does have the nice side effect that we can invite those being married to worship with us in the church in which they are to be married. But applying for a licence is one of the possible alternatives. It is used especially where the banns process has been messed up, the couple want privacy, or the marriage involves a foreign national.

All four licences last week (and a good number over the last year) fall into this last category. The most common situation is the couple met soon after coming to work in the country a couple of years ago, live together in rented property in the terraces near the Football Ground on the edge of Cleethorpes, and work in catering somewhere in the resort, he being Egyptian or else eastern European and she being Lithuanian or else from a neighbouring country.

Those of us involved in these weddings one way or another have tried to understand the phenomenon. One wondered why so many Egyptian men are marrying eastern European women; my assumption is that few Egyptian women are working here and that couples from neighbouring countries and cultures are more likely to return home to be married. Another wondered whether we are being naive and in some cases visa manipulation might be a factor, but there doesn’t seem to be any advantage of this sort when marrying another foreign national, and we have no grounds to probe if the couples are legally entitled to be married.

I wondered myself how it is that some Moslems are willing to make vows in a Christian form; where one party is not Christian I do make clear to them that it is what the marriage would involve and they usually express surprise that I think it worth mentioning. Perhaps there is a phenomenon of cultural Islam as much as of cultural Christianity. In two cases in recent months the couple have already been through a form of Muslim marriage to meet the religious needs of one partner and now want a Christian form to meet the religious needs of the other quite as much as to establish a legal marriage.

The orchids are also on the Cleethorpes coast.

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