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Associated Press, Published May 24 2013

UPDATED: Disabled ND couple refused marriage by church

BISMARCK – Anna Bankes is wearing her engagement ring. She has bought her wedding dress and chosen her bridesmaids. Justin Neis has his tux and his four groomsmen picked out. They have a reception hall and a DJ on tap.

Come July 13, Anna Bankes and Justin Neis will become husband and wife. The wedding location has been settled: Mandan United Methodist Church.

Both Neis and Bankes have disabilities – Neis is physically disabled and uses a wheelchair, and Bankes has intellectual disabilities and has been tested at the development of about a person of 15, said her sister, Charlene Bolton of Bismarck.

“He is 33 and she is 42,” Bolton said. “They both understand what they are getting into.”

The impasse – Neis, a Mandan native and a lifelong Catholic, wanted very much to be married at his church, Spirit of Life in Mandan, while the Rev. Chris Kadrmas, a pastor there, has told the couple that he feels they are not prepared to be married at this time.

Neis and Bankes said they told Kadrmas that they had been assured there were no legal impediments to their marriage.

“But he (Kadrmas) would not budge, citing church doctrine,” Bolton said.

Kadrmas, along with Bishop David Kagan of the Diocese of Bismarck, said they are in the position of not being able to comment in detail because of issues of confidentiality. Kadrmas and Kagan said that their concern is for what is best for the couple in the long term.

In cases where one or more of the parties has a guardian, the church mandates that priests consider whether the party or parties truly have “unfettered freedom to freely choose” to consent to the marriage, Kagan said. Even if the guardian or guardians consent, the Catholic Church teaches that marriage must truly be the choice of both parties, both of whom must fully understand the church believes that marriage is a permanent partnership for every aspect of life, Kagan said.

The priest is required to exercise “prudential judgment” as to whether both parties are freely choosing. Church doctrine that marriage is “between one man and one woman” cannot be a decision that includes a third party, such as a guardian, Kagan said.

Bankes and Neis met at The Arc Thrift Store in Bismarck, where they both work. They’ve known each other for five years and have been engaged for two.

When the two first met, over the folding and sorting tables at the store, Neis began flirting with Bankes, Bolton said.

Eventually, he asked Bankes’ mother’s permission to marry her, Bolton said.

“(Anna’s mother) said yes, but (told him) ‘you have to wait two years and get to know each other.’ Then he asked her and she said yes,” Bolton said.

Kadrmas said that he had not denied the couple marriage or told them it would be impossible, but instead had asked them to wait, to take more time to become ready. Kadrmas wrote a letter to the couple in May suggesting that Neis move to a group home and live there for six months to a year before considering marriage.

Although he lives in the same home as his parents, Neis said he has his own separate apartment, pays his mother rent and does his own shopping.

Bolton said her family and Neis’ have always told the couple that they can do anything. Although the couple won’t be able to have children, they will be able to provide comfort and support for each other, she said.

“They are loving, kind people. Nobody doesn’t like them,” Bolton said. “I thought the church was supposed to be inclusive and accepting of everyone. It’s not fair to them. It’s very frustrating.”