CCN Inc submission Marriage Equality Bills

CCN Inc submission re Marriage Bills Civil Celebrations Network (CCN) Inc
ABN 31 202 566 788
Non-for-profit association established 2008 under NSW Incorporation Act

Admin. PO Box 3113 Robertson NSW 2577 

30 March 2012

Submission to the House of Representatives Committee on Social Policy & Legal Affairs on the Marriage Amendment Bills.


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Summary of Recommendations: Recommendation 1:

CCN Inc recommends the definition of marriage in Section 45 (1) be changed to:
“marriage is the union of two adults, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.”

Recommendation 2:

CCN Inc recommends Subsection 45(2) and 72 (2) be changed to inserting “or marriage partner or partner in marriage” after husband.

Recommendation 3:

The CCN Inc recommends that the current position be maintained to allow for the flexibility for the Courts only to determine the maturity of the person aged between 16 and 18 as of ‘adult” status.

Recommendation 4:

The CCN Inc recommends combining items Section 45 (1) and (2) to read:

Where a marriage is solemnized by or in the presence of an authorized celebrant it may be solemnized according to any form and ceremony recognized as sufficient for the purpose by the marriage celebrant and is sufficient if, in the presence of the authorized celebrant and the witnesses, each of the parties indicate consent to the marriage by saying in words or indicating in some other form to the other:

I, A. take you, B, to be my wife / husband (or marriage partner or partner in marriage or spouse).

Recommendation 5  

The minimum age for appointment as a religious celebrant should be changed to 18 years so that the minimum age for all marriage celebrants is the same. 

Recommendation 6

That the category of Civil Marriage Celebrant be re-established.

Recommendation 7

That Section 47 be changed to read:

            47 Authorised Marriage Celebrants not bound to solemnize marriage etc.
Nothing in this Part: ...

(a) imposes an obligation on an authorized celebrant, to solemnize any marriage;
(b) prevents an authorized celebrant, being a religious celebrant, from making it a condition of his or her solemnizing a marriage that:

   (i) longer notice of intention to marry than that required by this Act is given; or
   (ii) requirements additional to those provided by this Act are observed.

Recommendation 8

That the Committee on Social Policy & Legal Affairs recommend to government that the Coalition of Celebrant Associations Inc’s recommendations on Cost Recovery and Increasing the Professionalism of Marriage Celebrants be adopted.

In particular, Commonwealth appointed marriage celebrants and their couples should not be adversely affected by compliance measures and their associated fees for cost recovery that are not required of the Recognised religious celebrants and state registry office marriage celebrants.  

Recommendation 9:

That married couples be granted the same rights to a second marriage ceremony under the same conditions as couples seeking marriage ceremonies from religious celebrants. 

Recommendation 10:

That the Committee on Social Policy & Legal Affairs recommend to government the development and inclusion of training units in Community Services and Health Sector of the national VET program on

  • Human rights, Discrimination and Citizenship
  • Spirituality, Religion and Community
  • Rites of Passage and Stages of Human Growth to Maturity
  • Role of Community Citizenship Celebrant 
Preamble Preamble: The Civil Celebrations Network (CCN) Inc is the newest community celebrant-based non-profit association established with the aim of promoting civil ceremonies in our democratic society to improve social inclusion, harmony and community well being.

For the CCN Inc. a “civil” ceremony is all participants are respected, whatever their cultural, family or personal heritage and certainly one in which people with religious, spiritual and non-religious beliefs all are respected. The CCN Inc. does not view the term “civil” as synonymous with the term “secular”, though it is acknowledged that people with strong religious convictions may not share that view.



The CCN Inc as a national celebrant association supports over 600 civil celebrants, who like religious celebrants, offer ceremonies and celebrations to support individuals and families

  • in times of change, with ceremonies such as weddings and namings
  • in times of loss, with ceremonies such as funerals and memorials, and
  • through significant life stages, with ceremonies such as major birthdays and wedding anniversaries.


Introduction Introduction:
The  CCN Inc is a member of the celebrant peak body, Coalition of Celebrant Associations (CoCA). CCN Inc supports the CoCA submission to this House of Representatives Committee on Social Policy & Legal Affairs, and offers our comments and recommendations as an expansion of the points made to you by CoCA.

The  CCN Inc supports

  • civil and human rights principles and the importance of all Australians to uphold their civil responsibilities. Civil ceremonies provide an opportunity for individuals, families and communities to come together in an inclusive way thereby respecting the humanity of all Australians.
  • the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a statement of ethical and moral principles upon which all societies need to base their laws and behaviours to ensure the common good for all their citizens, especially in regard to this matter: See Appendix 1.
  • respect for peoples of both religious and non-religious beliefs, provided those beliefs do not adversely affect the human and civil rights of others.   
It is obvious that there is a diversity of sexuality inherent in all living things (plants, animals, microbes, bacteria etc)   – asexual, heterosexual, homosexual, and so on.   Ethical and moral interpretations that label these inherent qualities as good/ bad are simplistic and often based upon one’s life experiences and education rather than human rights principles.

It is important for the community to understand that marriage commenced as a civil function around eight hundred years ago and still is fundamentally a public oath of intent to enter into a relationship in which each person undertakes to care for the other, and any children of that relationship under civil law. Any promise or commitment a person makes is important. However, when those promises are made publicly they give the person who makes them and those who receive them more power and respect. They are also held to account and supported by their community as a consequence of the public nature of their promise.

That this relationship is legally witnessed as a legal contract and has economic, social and other consequences, adds serious legal dimensions that needs to be upheld by all marriage celebrants, religious and civil ones, but does not reduce the marriage ceremony to just a legal act.

That religious groups have been granted rights under the Marriage Act 1961 to perform marriages on behalf of the state does not alter that fact that marriage in Australia is a secular/ civil contract.





General position re Civil Unions and Same Sex Marriage:

The CCN Inc sees addressing issues such as civil unions as part of the evolution of becoming more caring, compassionate and ‘civilised’ people, and provides information on same sex relationships, civil unions and marriage for the general public on its website: www.ceremonies.org.au.
See Appendix 2. In its submission to the  Attoeney General’s Department on  the Consolidation of Commonwealth Anti–Discrimination Laws, the CCN Inc argued that now is the time to address issues related to human rights. See Appendix 3.

Therefore the CCN Inc supports in principle, the broadening of the definition of marriage as the union of two people  “regardless of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity”.

Should these bills not get sufficient support, the CCN Inc is also supportive of a step towards Same Sex marriage, of a National “Civil Union” program running in parallel with the Marriage Program, where Civil Union ceremonies are celebrated by those civil marriage celebrants who choose to do so, and registered in the State BDM in the same way as marriages currently are.



Definition of Marriage Definition of Marriage:

However, the CCN Inc also sees civil law and public ceremonies as reinforcing and educating our community about the importance of human rights principles and healthy respectful behaviours.

The definition of marriage in Section 45(1) is currently required to be said at marriages conducted by Commonwealth appointed marriage celebrants, not Recognised Religious celebrants. As the former perform 60-65% of marriages in Australia, that represents 72,000 couples and their witnesses annually.  

Both definitions recommend the replacement of the words “man and a woman” in Section 45(1) with “two people”. The CCN Inc does not consider that the expression “two people” encapsulates a current basic premise of marriage as being a relationship between two adults as was intrinsic in the use of the words “man and woman” (i.e. the definition is not stated as ‘two people of opposite sex’ which could allow for a boy and a girl).

Both bills recommend the additional term of “partner” as accessible alternatives to husband / wife. However ‘partner’ is a term that is used in many contexts – business partner; bridge, tennis, golf, squash or some other sporting partner. Therefore, the terminology needs to be more specific, such as partner in marriage or marriage partner.

Recommendation 1:

CCN Inc recommends the definition of marriage in Section 45 (1) be changed to:
“marriage is the union of two adults, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.”

Recommendation 2:

CCN Inc recommends Subsection 45(2) and 72 (2) be changed to inserting “or marriage partner or partner in marriage” after husband.

Definition of Adult

Neither bill addresses the current provisions that allow for one of the parties to the marriage to be between the ages of 16 and 18 with Court approval. The other party must be 18 years or older.

Recommendation 3:

The CCN Inc recommends that the current position be maintained to allow for the flexibility for the Courts only to determine the maturity of the person aged between 16 and 18 as of ‘adult” status.



Form of Ceremony Section 45 (2) Form of Ceremony   The CCN Inc has made a number of recommendations with respect to changes to the Marriage Act 1961 in its recent submission to the Attorney General re Cost Recovery and Increasing Professionalism and its submission re Consolidation of Commonwealth Anti–Discrimination Laws.  See: http://www.civilcelebrationsnetwork.org.au/submissions

The recommendations in these submissions were based upon the experience of many civil marriage celebrants working with couples to personalize their public consent to being married to one another.

In particular the suggested wording, that was written over half a century ago, required to be said by couples in a civil ceremony are cumbersome and antiquated, and as these words are not to be required by couples in religious ceremonies, discriminatory.

Section 45 (2) Form of Ceremony states:

(1) Where a marriage is solemnized by or in the presence of an authorized celebrant, being a minister of religion, it may be solemnized according to any form and ceremony recognized as sufficient for the purpose by the religious body or organization of which he or she is a minister.

(2) Where a marriage is solemnized by or in the presence of an authorized celebrant, not being a minister of religion, it is sufficient if each of the parties says to the other, in the presence of the authorized celebrant and the witnesses, the words:

“I call upon the persons here present to witness that I, A.B. (or C.D.), take thee, C.D. (or A.B.), to be my lawful wedded wife (or husband)”;

or words to that effect.

With high literacy and good registration systems, the freedom to marry and recording the fact that the marriage has taken place can be documented and recorded. Complex verbal consent, as was originally required centuries ago, is no longer as relevant.

It must be pointed out that in religious ceremonies the surnames may not be used at all, such as consent to the marriage being with a simple “I do”. It is the person who makes the commitment, not the name label they have been given by parents or social traditions or by choice. There is no evidence to support the assumption that somehow forcing every couple to use full names in civil ceremonies will uncover a fraudulent name during a wedding ceremony.

The expression “lawful” can turn to “awful” with the wedding day nerves, and no one in common usage calls their husband or wife … “wedded husband” or “wedded wife”.  The expression “
I call upon the persons here present to witness that” is a mouthful and superfluous in the vast majority of weddings where invitations have been issued, the venue is decorated, and the bridal party dressed for a wedding occasion! 

The CCN Inc considers

  • the statement by the celebrant to the wedding gathering that they are authorised by law to marry people under Section 46, along with all the other checks and balances such as the Form 13 (Notice), Form 14 (Stat. Declaration of Age & Marital Status), sighted identity documents and suitability checks etc., should verify the identity of the parties to the marriage and this process ensure sufficient time for consent to be obvious.
  •  the parties to the marriage should have the freedom to express their commitment to each other in plain English and without the complications of previous names, or formal birth names no longer in common usage, being involved.
  • There are numerous examples of stress and disappointment caused for couples, by civil celebrants insisting that couples must use  antiquated wording and/ or to use forms of their names in their civil ceremonies. The marriage ceremony is expected to be the most beautiful expression of a couple’s love and commitment to one another, so it is disappointing that couples choosing a civil ceremony are discriminated against in this way.
Recommendation 4:

The CCN Inc recommends combining items Section 45 (1) and (2) to read:

(1)  Where a marriage is solemnized by or in the presence of an authorized celebrant it may be solemnized according to any form and ceremony recognize as sufficient for the purpose by the marriage celebrant and is sufficient if, in the presence of the authorized celebrant and the witnesses, each of the parties indicate consent to the marriage by saying in words or indicating in some other form to the other:

I, A. take you, B, to be my wife / husband (or marriage partner or partner in marriage or spouse)

Or words to that effect.





Removing Discrimination Removing Discrimination against Civil Marriage Celebrants and the Couples they Marry.

The CCN Inc is expressly interested in the proposals put forward in these Bills because, if either is passed, they will alter the legal aspects of marriage in society, and thus alter our roles as appointees of the Commonwealth, and the legal, psychological, social and cultural responsibilities we deliver in providing marriage ceremonies on behalf of the Commonwealth Government. In 2003, contrary to popular myth, the legislative changes enacted, and the subsequent administrative processes, did not change the definition of marriage. Instead, the changes brought in fundamentally different, and thus discriminatory, principles and standards for the training, appointment, review and termination of the services of different categories of marriage celebrants appointed under the Act.

The minimum appointment age for a civil marriage celebrant is 18 and for a religious marriage celebrant 21. Currently there are very few people seeking authorisation as a marriage celebrant under the age of 25 years.

The category of Commonwealth Appointed Civil Marriage Celebrants was abolished, along with categories of marriage celebrants based upon special needs, such as disabilities or languages other than English, and merged with the category of Commonwealth appointed non-aligned religious Marriage Celebrants. The latter provide marriage services to sections of the Australian community that are too small or in other ways do not fit the criteria to be “recognised” as a religious organization under the Marriage Act.

Currently there are:

  • approx 120 such Recognised Religions (See Appendix 3) with approx 23,500 recognised religious celebrants, and
  • 500 state appointed marriage celebrants
    whose marriage services administered by the State Registries of Births, Deaths and Marriages.
    and there are:
  • approximately 2,000 Commonwealth marriage celebrants appointed to deliver ‘religious’ ceremonies and
  • 8,000 appointed to deliver ‘civil’ ceremonies,
where such “civil” ceremonies can include religious elements, if so requested by the couple.

Commonwealth appointed marriage celebrants are not supported by a salary or stipend as are State Registry Office marriage celebrants or the Recognised religious marriage celebrants.  Since the 2003 changes the average number of weddings per celebrant per year has dropped from 35 pa to 7. This means an annual average gross income of less than 3 thousand dollars!

To require the latter group to meet higher compliance requirements and fees is discriminatory against those marriage celebrants and the 60+% of marrying couples who use their services.

CCN Inc also considers that if religious celebrants are given the freedom, on the basis of personal or organisational conscience, to choose or refuse to marry any couple, then the same respect needs to be afforded of celebrants offering ‘civil’ ceremonies.

As marriage is a legal contract administer under one Commonwealth Act, CCN Inc considers it is reasonable to assume that all marriage celebrants and all marrying couples be treated fairly and equitably under law, whilst respecting that there may be differences beliefs that affect the wording and symbolism of the ceremony.

It is a strength of the Australian culture that it aims not to discriminate on religious grounds. However, it is not acceptable that, in taking measures to respect certain people’s religious beliefs, other people (celebrants or the marrying public) with different religious, spiritual or humanitarian beliefs are treated in a discriminatory manner in a civil ceremony.

Recommendation 5

The minimum age for appointment as a religious celebrant should be changed to 18 years so that the minimum age for all marriage celebrants is the same.

Recommendation 6

That the category of Civil Marriage Celebrant be re-established.


Recommendation 7

That Section 47 be changed to read:

47 Authorised Marriage Celebrants not bound to solemnize marriage etc.
Nothing in this Part:..

(a) imposes an obligation on an authorized celebrant, to solemnize any marriage;
(b) prevents an authorized celebrant, being a religious celebrant, from making it a condition of his or her solemnizing a marriage that:

   (i) longer notice of intention to marry than that required by this Act is given; or
   (ii) requirements additional to those provided by this Act are observed.
CCN Inc also considers the fundamental underlying principles that apply to Commonwealth appointed Marriage Celebrants as regards

  • appointment 
  • training in Marriage Law
  • requirements and flexibilities in delivering marriage services
  • compliance measures, and 
  • registration fees for cost recovery
need to be applied to all marriage celebrants to establish an equitable baseline for all marriage celebrants and the marrying public. 

To this end the CCN Inc has participated in the development of the civil celebrant peak body, the Coalition of Celebrant Associations CoCA, in the working parties that prepared CoCA’s submission to government and in preparing its own submission to increase the professionalism of civil celebrants and to work to remove discrimination against people of different or no religious belief.

Recommendation 8

That the Committee on Social Policy & Legal Affairs recommend to government that the Coalition of Celebrant Associations Inc’s recommendations on Cost Recovery and Increasing the Professionalism of Marriage Celebrants be adopted. 

In particular, Commonwealth appointed marriage celebrants and their couples should not be adversely affected by compliance measures and their associated fees for cost recovery that are not required of the Recognised Religious celebrants and state registry office marriage celebrants.

See APPENDIX 5 



Recognition of Overseas Marriage Recognition of Overseas Marriages and Second Marriage Ceremonies Currently marriage celebrants are not permitted to “fully marry” any couple who are already married – either here or overseas. i.e. comply with all aspect of the law and register the marriage.

Therefore the CCN Inc supports Section 88EA being repealed, should the definition of marriage be changed as proposed, otherwise same sex couples married overseas would not be recognized in Australia, nor be able to be married in Australia.

Civil marriage celebrants are not able to purport to perform second marriage ceremonies (without various aspects of legal compliance and registration) for couples, who can establish that they are married.

However religious marriage celebrants are permitted to provide second marriage ceremonies for married couples without being required to disclose the fact that the couple were previously married.

Many other countries allow second marriage ceremonies of couples that can demonstrate they are married.

Recommendation 9:

That married couples be granted the same rights to a second marriage ceremony under the same conditions as couples seeking marriage ceremonies from religious celebrants. 



Training for Marriage Celebrants Training for Marriage Celebrants and other students in the Community Services and Health Sector. The CCN Inc, in its submission to the Attorney General’s Department on Increasing Professionalism & Cost Recovery, advocated the development of the following new VET units to be available for students for a range of Certificate IV courses in the Community Services and Health Sector, including students of the Certificate IV in Celebrancy (Reference: http://www.civilcelebrationsnetwork.org.au/submissions).

These were:

  • UNIT 1 Human Rights, Discrimination and Citizenship – Evolution of separation of church and state; Human Rights’ history and examples of the ways belief systems about the meaning of life and causes of human behaviour have and still do impact - on the treatment of women, people with disabilities, people with mental illness, people vulnerable to life style pressures etc. Rights and Responsibilities of Citizens in a secular multicultural society
  • UNIT 2 Spirituality, Religion and Community -
    Relationship between belief, faith, knowledge and behaviour; Secular (Civil) Spirituality, New Age and other Forms of Spirituality, Comparative Religion, Cults, Advantages and Disadvantages, Stages of Religious/ Spiritual/Psychological Growth, Examination of spiritual and religious beliefs and their impacts on human rights and society.
  • UNIT 3 Rites of Passage and Stages of Human Growth to Maturity (physical, mental, spiritual and social, cultural). Symbolism, Dependence, Independence, Interdependence issues.  Their relation to alcohol and other drug use, mental health, violence, etc. Examination of the SA program used in some schools, called The Rite Journey (a unique educational program designed to support the development of self-aware, vital, responsible and resilient adults) http://theritejourney.com.au/
  • UNIT 4 Role of Community Citizenship Celebrant
    Role of a Community Citizenship Celebrant; Australian Constitution; Basic structure of Australia’s legal system; History and Law as relates to Citizenship; Rights  & Responsibilities of Citizenship; Citizenship Ceremonies and Programs; Knowledge of   factors affecting the social and cultural development of all citizens; local community structures and their relationships with federal, state and local government; research, liaison and referral skills
Recommendation 10:

That the Committee on Social Policy & Legal Affairs recommend to government the development and inclusion of training units in Community Services and Health Sector of the national VET program on

  • Human rights, Discrimination and Citizenship
  • Spirituality, Religion and Community
  • Rites of Passage and Stages of Human Growth to Maturity
  • Role of Community Citizenship Celebrant 
Conclusion Conclusion:

As an organization that supports many of those celebrants who would be affected by a change in the legislation, the CCN Inc would appreciate the opportunity to discuss with your Committee about the practical impacts of these proposed Acts on those providing marriage services to the marrying public,   and especially to the marrying public who have no religious affiliation and choose a secular wedding ceremony.


As stated, the Civil Celebrations Network (CCN) aim is to promote civil ceremonies in our democratic society to improve social inclusion, harmony and community well being.  As such the CCN Inc would also appreciated being able to  listen to other views presented if that is appropriate.


Thank you for the opportunity to share the CCN Inc. views and recommendations on this important issue.

The CCN Inc can be contacted via email on:
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


or by phone on 02 4885 2393

should you require any further information.

Yours sincerely


Rona Goold
Chairperson
Civil Celebrations Network (CCN) Inc.

30th March 2012 



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