The Attorney General's Department has issued new marriage forms, including the Notice of Intended Marriage and the Official Certificate of Marriage, in time for the changes to the Marriage Act which come into effect on Saturday 9th December. Civil Celebrants now have access to these forms which will be used for all couples. The words "Bride" and "Groom" on the old forms have been replaced by "Party 1" and "Party 2" and each person can then choose if they wish to be described on the Certificate of Marriage as a "Groom", "Bride" or "Partner".
The Australian Parliament today changed the Marriage Act with an overwhelming majority in favour enabling same sex couples to marry. According to the Attorney General, George Brandis, the law will come into effect on 9th December. The Act requires all couples to give at least one month's notice, meaning the earliest date they can marry will be 9th January.
So what needs to be done if you plan to marry early in the new year?
The Attorney-General George Brandis is proposing an amendment to the Dean Smith Bill which would give civil celebrants the right to refuse to marry gay couples. But are celebrants asking for this? Civil celebrant associations say they don't want the right to discriminate against same-sex couples. There are approximately 8,500 civil celebrants in Australia, and most are members of an Association. These associations have surveyed their members from time to time to ask how we all feel about marrying same-sex couples. Dorothy Harrison, chair of the Coalition of Celebrant Associations, was quoted in The Age newspaper as saying that the majority of celebrants don't want an exemption, and don't approve of them. "A survey of 1500 civil celebrants conducted by the Coalition of Celebrant Associations found just 3 per cent would resign if compelled to perform same-sex weddings. Eighty per cent said they would happily marry same-sex couples".
The Dean Smith Bill already has a provision for a new category of religious marriage celebrants who would be given the same rights currently given to ministers of recognised denominations to refuse to marry anyone, for any reason. In my view, and in the view of most civil celebrants, it is unnecessary to give the same right to disciminate to all civil celebrants. We're not exactly "public servants" but we do have an obligation to perform marriages according to the Marriage Act, without discrimination.
I've seen some announcements in the media about same-sex couples who are planning to marry in January or February 2018, and have also been asked by several people about the earliest date they can have a wedding. Under the existing Marriage Act couples intending to marry must give at least one month's notice to an authorised marriage celebrant. According to the Prime Minister, the necessary changes to the Act will be made before Christmas. Assuming the Parliament passes the amendments this year, will same-sex couples be able to marry from 1st January, and can they give notice of their intended marriage now? Here is the latest information available from the Attorney General's department.
Stephen Cook is an authorised Marriage Celebrant and a celebrant for all life's special occasions