Marriage in Australia a 'state' or religious function?
Marriage in Australia is a "state" not religious function, under Commonwealth legislation (Marriage Act 1961 Act No. 12 of 1961 as amended) and administered by the Federal Attorney General.
In fact in Western tradition, marriage has always been a secular (civil), not a religious function.
Some countries such as France do not grant religious celebrants the right to marry people on behalf of the 'state'. Church weddings as such are blessings of an existing marriage or are not recognised by the State if the couple are not already married.
Who can be authorised to conduct marriages In Australia?
People authorised to marriage fellow citizens are classified as 3 types being:
- Ministers of Recognised Religions (Part IV — 22 Division 1 Subdivision A) ie ministers of mainstream religious eg Catholic, Anglican, Uniting, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian etc
- State and Territory officers (Part IV — 22 Division 1 Subdivision B) eg Registrars of Birth, Deaths & Marriages and their nominated staff
- Commonwealth Appointed Marriage Celebrants (Part IV — 22 Division 1 Subdivision C) ie celebrants appointed for civil or non-aligned religious ceremonies or both
Note: Whilst the nomination of ministers of recognised religions has been delegated to their churches, and their registration to state and territory departments, their authorisation still remains under the ultimate authority of the Commonwealth Marriage Act and the federal Attorney General.
Are there differences in the appointment and requirements of the different types of celebrants?
Yes. There are several differences:
- Only Commonwealth Appointed Marriage celebrants are all now required to have specific uniform marriage related training. In 2003, one Unit of a Vocational Education and Training (VET) course, now thirteen units of a full Certificate IV in Celebrancy.
- Minister of Recognised are assumed to have training, but this varies greatly across denominations and does not have to be specific to the conduct and registration of marriages, rather to the religious rites related to marriage and a number of other duties as required by their religion.
- Only Commonwealth Appointed Marriage celebrants are required to
- a. state they are authored by law to marriage couples
- b. give a definition of marriage according to Australian law, and
- c. ensure the marrying couple to say specific vows as defined by law
- d. required to do annual ongoing training
- e. adhere to a Code of Conduct
- Only are subject to a formal Performance Review and Complaints system with the threat of de-registration if their couples or the public complains make complaints, or the Commonwealth Marriage Register deems them unsuitable or not sufficiently competent to perform their duties.
Do these difference affect the Marrying public?
Yes in three ways.
- Couples married by Commonwealth appointed marriage celebrants MUST say specific words whether they wish to or not, whereas depending on the religious rites the couple may be required to say different vows, say little or nothing in the way of vows.
- Guests at mainstream religious marriages may not know whether the celebrant is duly authorised, nor what the state considers "marriage to be" in that there is no requirement that these segments be included.
- Couples married by Commonwealth appointed marriage celebrants may have more uniform protection as regards the quality of the services they receive as the Code of Conduct, training and performance review is mandatory
See references below
- In 2009, 67% of 120,118 weddings pa = 80,479
- No of civil celebrants = 10,300
- Average of 'civil and non-aligned' weddings per celebrant per year = 7.8
This figure includes civil marriages conducted by state registry offices.
Therefore the average number of weddings pa per independent community based civil and non-aligned religious marriage celebrant
- In 2009 is less than 7.8 weddings per year ie less than one wedding per month, compared with the fact that
- In 1999, the average number of weddings per civil and non-aligned religious celebrant was 32 weddings per celebrant per year ie approx. 3 weddings per month.
The Australian population was 19 million in 2000, and the number of commonwealth appointed marriage celebrants was approx. 3,400
The Australian population was 22.408 million in 2010, and the number of commonwealth appointed marriage celebrants was approx.10,300
- That is Increase in number of celebrants is 202.9 % for an increase in the Australia population of 17.9%, ie over 11 times the rate at which the population is growing.
But if the actual number of weddings has increased, does not that justify a big increase in the number of celebrants?
One needs to compare like with like.
Yes the portion of civil marriages to religious weddings has been increasing, but that has been factored into the figures above in the average number of civil marriages per celebrant per year.
If one compares as above the growth in number of civil and non-aligned religious celebrants to the growth in population, then one needs to compare the growth in the number of marriage to the population growth ie the "Crude Marriage Rate"
- Between 1989 and 2001, the crude marriage rate declined from 7.0 to 5.3.
- However, after a slight increase between 2001 and 2004, there has since been little variation.
That is there has been no corresponding increase in the rate of marriage to justify the increasing rate of marriage celebrant appointments.