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Royal wedding announcement poses religious questions

POSTED: December 1, 2017 2:39 a.m.
Kelsey Dallas/

Meghan Markle arrives at ELLE's 6th annual Women in Television celebration at the Sunset Tower Hotel on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

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First comes love, then comes baptism? Meghan Markle has a few faith-related hurdles to clear before her royal wedding next year to Prince Harry.

Like Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, before her, Markle will join the Church of England ahead of her nuptials, likely out of respect for her future in-laws, Harper's Bazaar reported. The 36-year-old American actress attended a Catholic school in Los Angeles growing up, but describes herself as Protestant.

"Markle honors Harry's grandmother the Queen, who, as the sovereign, holds the title of 'Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England,'" the article noted.

The spouses of royals need not be Anglican, but most are, given the monarchy's close ties to the faith. Until 2013, people in line for the throne forfeited their succession rights if they married a Roman Catholic. That prohibition ended with the Succession to the Crown Act.

"What that act did not change was the requirement that the British sovereign be a Protestant," Religion News Service reported

Markle will be baptized and confirmed in time for the couple's May wedding, which will take place at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. Prince Harry was christened there in 1984, and it's become a special place for the couple during their 18-month courtship, The Telegraph reported.

In choosing this venue, the couple put Markle's previous marriage in the spotlight, since the Church of England only recently began allowing church weddings for divorced people whose prior partner is still alive.

At a 2002 General Synod gathering, church leaders decided that, "in exceptional circumstances, a divorced person may marry again in church," if a clergy person approves of his or her intentions and feels that the marriage is not intended to harm anyone, according to the BBC.

The church's former, hard-line stance on divorce and remarriage caused a number of headaches for the royal family over the years. Edward VIII abdicated the throne in 1936 in order to wed Wallis Simpson, a divorced American socialite.

"The church's ban on remarriage for a divorced person whose previous spouse is alive applied to King Edward, and still held for Queen Elizabeth's sister, Princess Margaret, in 1953," Religion News Service reported.

In 2005, Prince Harry's father, Prince Charles, was prevented from having his second marriage in a church because his longtime partner's former husband was still alive. Although the Church of England had softened its stance on remarriage, church leaders frowned upon solemnizing an affair that was widely understood to have sabotaged two marriages.

"The prince married (Camilla) Parker Bowles in a compromise: They tied the knot in a civil ceremony and then had an Anglican blessing for their marriage in St. George's Chapel, at Windsor Castle, conducted by then-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams," Religion News Service reported.

In order to wed in St. George's Chapel, Markle will have to meet with church leaders to discuss her beliefs about marriage and her understanding of the reason for her divorce, said Philip Williamson, a historian of religion and the royal family at Durham University, to HuffPost.

"Before a wedding consecrated by the church she would be asked some questions, probably by the archbishop of Canterbury, about the circumstances of the divorce," he said.

The baptism and confirmation process will also invite self-reflection and spiritual development, HuffPost reported.

"Candidates are typically asked to attend a few sessions to explore their faith with a vicar. During the baptism service, the candidate will be given the opportunity to repent of their past sins and declare that they accept Christ as their savior," the article noted.

Archbishop Justin Welby, who is the senior bishop in the Church of England, praised the couple's wedding plans in a statement released Nov. 27.

"Marriage is a special and joyous commitment, one that Jesus celebrated together with friends at the wedding in Cana. I am so happy that Prince Harry and Ms. Markle have chosen to make their vows before God," he said.
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