Persons Who Have Been Cohabiting out of Wedlock
A baptismal candidate who has been cohabiting out of wedlock with a person of the opposite gender must either marry the person or cease living with the person before he or she can be baptized.
So I was absolutely gobsmacked when I read on LDS Freedom Forum that LDS authorities in the Philippines are apparently permitting cohabiting couples to be baptized into the Church without discontinuing their cohabitation or upgrading it to official marriage. The source of the information appears unimpeachable -- it was published on June 2nd, 2015 by Elder Bradyn Balatico English, who is assigned to the Philippines San Pablo Mission. Elder English writes the following:
We have had more success in our work and our numbers are improving. The area presidency (currently Ian S. Ardern, President; Shayne M. Bowen, First Counselor; and Larry J. Echo Hawk, Second Counselor) recently released a new rule that as long as two people have been living together for 5 years or more, they are allowed to be baptized, just because it is really hard for people here to get married or to get a divorce. Which means that one of our investigators who has really been wanting to be baptized is now able to. It also means that we will probably be having about 5 baptisms this month. I think that I'm more excited for my companion than I am for myself, just because I still have so many memories from my first baptism.
There has been no confirmation of this published by LDS Church Headquarters in Salt Lake City. But even so, don't get excited, cohabiters. Special rules set forth by an area presidency apply only to that area. If you live anywhere else, you will still have to discontinue your cohabitation or upgrade it to marriage to get baptized.
Elder English is right about the exceptional difficulties facing Filipinos who want to get married or divorced. A June 25th, 2015 in The Atlantic entitled "Ending a Marriage in the Only Country That Bans Divorce" tells the story. Since divorce is illegal in the Philippines (except for Muslims), the only way to end a marriage legally is through annulment, which can be a lengthy and expensive process. An annulment ends a marriage, but differs from divorce in important ways. The parties, for instance, must prove that the marriage was never valid to begin with. Under Philippine law, reasons can include one or both parties having been below the age of 18 when they got married, either party having an incurable sexually transmitted disease, or cases of polygamy or mistaken identity. Infidelity and physical abuse are not the list of acceptable reasons for a marriage to be declared invalid under Philippine law. A petitioner seeking to leave a marriage for those or any number of other reasons has to try to prove that his or her spouse is suffering from psychological incapacity such as narcissistic personality disorder. Furthermore, annulment cases may drag on for 4 years or more, and court fees, which typically amount to nearly $400 just to file paperwork, can exceed the average monthly wages of Filipino workers, which a 2012 International Labor Organization study estimated at less than $300.
So why did the Area Presidency pick five years as the standard? Here's where the five-year rule comes into play.
Common law marriage, or common law cohabitation as it is called in the Philippines, is viewed by the law in terms of its effect on property relations and ownership. The Family Code expresses the guideline that a man and a woman who have lived together for at least 5 years and are not legally encumbered to marry are considered as husband and wife. This means, then, that all the properties that were acquired during the period of their union are considered as community or joint property, and are governed by rules on equal ownership. This also goes for wages and salaries earned by both or one party in the cohabitation agreement. If one or both parties however, are legally impeded, but are still living together, the law states clearly that only those properties or acquisitions where there was actual contribution made by both parties will be deemed as common property.
Since cohabitation of five years or longer is considered marriage for property and ownership reasons, this means the Area Presidency isn't prescribing an exception to the existing cohabitation rule, but is merely interpreting it more flexibly to reflect the unique circumstances prevalent in the Philippines. Undoubtedly the Area Presidency not only prayed about this in advance, but got permission from Salt Lake before implementing this interpretation. So the LDS Church is NOT relaxing their baptism standards.