In 1973, using a provision under the Commonwealth a new group of independent civil celebrants (later added to by various special needs groups) was created on a needs basis with the fee for services set by the government.
The Australia Marriage Act 1961 is a simple common sense piece of legislation, that protects the couples from any mistakes the celebrant may make, provided the couple are free to marry.
- Various Changes to the Program have been made to the Commonwealth Civil Marriage Celebrant Program since its inception over four decades ago in 1973.
- Some of those changes are summarized on the CoCA webpage titled For the Media.
- This is because the Exempted Marriage Celebrants (Recognised Religious and the Registry Office celebrants - Subdivisions A and B) are NOT required, as Commonwealth Celebrants are, to have pay an Annual Registration Fee.
So, leaving to one side the issue of same sex couples, in what ways is the Marriage Act 1961 discriminatory?
1. Religious marriage celebrants may
- require couples to give longer notice of intention to marry than that required by this Act is given [Section 47 (b) (i)] and/ or
- make additional requirements of couples than those provided by this Act. [Section 47 (b) (ii)]
- discriminate against divorced couples on the basis of marital status or other couples on any other grounds [Section 47 (a)]
- marry couples who are already married to each other in a second Marriage Ceremony, without the requirement to declare to the guests that the couple are already legally married. [Section 113]
- are required to have their couples take their vows - in a form not required of couples being married in a religous ceremony [Section 45]
- are required to say they are authorised by law to marry and give a definition of marriage according to Australian law - not required of Subdivision A and B celebrants [Section 46] though is required of Commonwealth appointed independent religious celebrants.
- are required to provide couples with information on relationship education and counselling services - assumed but not required of Subdivision A [Section 39C(2) (b)]
The Marriage Act grants Religious celebrants the right to refuse to marry a couple for any reason, but not so civil celebrants. [Section 47]
Independent Marriage Celebrants, the majority of whom are civil celebrants, must
- have prior training in marriage law [Section 39C (2)]
- must complete 5 hours of mandatory ongoing professional development each year [Section 39G (b)]
- must abide by a Code of Practice [Section 39G (a)]
- must be reviewed every 5 years [Section 39H (1) & (2)]
- must pay an annual fee of $240, the non-pyayment of which results in automatic de-registration.
In addition, the Explanatory Memorandum specifically advises Subdivision C independent Religious Celebrants two ways in which they can avoid paying the fee (Section 113 and applying to be a Recognised Religion), thus leaving Commonwealth Civil Marriage Celebrants as the only group required to pay this fee.
This table prepared for a Senate Inquiry summaries the various sections of the Marriage Act as they differ across their various Subdivisions of marriage celebrants.
It must also be recognised that the working conditions in which independent civil marriage celebrants now operate are not equitable, considering that all sub-divisions of marriage celebrants, irrespective of the style of ceremony, provide the same legal service under the Act. ie valid marriage.
- Independent marriage celebrants must provide all their own set-up, maintenance and running costs unlike Subdivision A and B celebrants who have income and other support as part of their employment arrangements.
This is determined by the law makers applying different underlying principles and assumptions of the different groups of celebrants and their marrying couples.
The most obvious difference came into sharp focus when the Marriage Amendment Bills were passed. Why? Because
- Sub-division A Religious marriage celebrants can be de-registered if they are found to be conducting marriages as a business ie Marriage Act Section 33 (1) (d) (ii) if a celebrant "has been making a business of solemnising marriages for the purpose of profit or gain;"
- Yet Sub-division C Civil marriage celebrants will be de-registered if they are NOT conducting marriages as a business!!
TCN Inc Delegate to the Coalition of Celebrant Associations.