In 2021, 80% of Australian weddings were officiated by a Civil Celebrant. AOIC Policy Manager Sophie Easton examines why this makes getting married Down Under so different – and why the UK should take a leaf from the Aussies’ book!
The statistics speak for themselves. In 2021, 80.7% of marrying couples in Australia chose a Civil Celebrant to lead their ceremony – a figure that’s been steadily rising over the past 20 years, up from 53.1% in 2001 (Australian Bureau of Statistics).
The remaining 19.3% of marrying couples in 2021 chose a Minister of Religion to conduct their wedding – a person who is “authorised to marry people in line with the rites or customs of a religious organisation or body” (Attorney-General’s Department).
So does this mean that 80% of Australian weddings are simply non-religious, procedural affairs? The type you might be familiar with if you’ve ever attended a UK register office wedding?
Well no, it doesn’t. Because in Australia, Civil Celebrants (known officially as Commonwealth-Registered Celebrants) have the privilege of performing all types of ceremonies, “even if they don’t match with their own beliefs and cultures”.
Furthermore, the law authorising the officiant rather than the building enables couples to hold their wedding in any location they choose (the beach, of course, being a popular option!).
Quite simply, it’s a system that puts the couple, rather than the officiant, front and centre.
The role of the Australian celebrant
There are currently over 9000 Commonwealth-registered marriage celebrants in Australia, all performing a much-valued role within their communities. And it’s a responsibility they take incredibly seriously.
According to the Australian Government’s Code of Practice, a marriage celebrant “must recognise the social, cultural and legal significance of marriage and the marriage ceremony in the Australian community, and the importance of strong and respectful family relationships”. They must also “respect the importance of the marriage ceremony to the parties” and “inform the parties about the range of information and services available to them to enhance and sustain them throughout their relationship”.
Australian celebrants are required to have achieved a recognised qualification in celebrancy and/or have demonstrated skills in celebrancy in order to be authorised. They must also pay an annual registration fee and complete compulsory ongoing professional development (OPD) every year.
Furthermore, a registered celebrant is not allowed to discriminate against marrying couples based on:
So in a nutshell, a couple getting married in Australia can choose their celebrant, choose their location, and express themselves in any way they wish during their ceremony – with the freedom to weave in secular, religious, cultural and spiritual elements to their hearts’ content.
Now doesn’t that sound good?!
Good news on the way?
The good news for us Brits is that some of this magic COULD be weaving its way across the seas, as the Law Commission recently published recommendations to Government for a new weddings law in England & Wales that regulates the officiant rather than the location of a couple’s wedding ceremony.
In these recommendations they make direct reference to the marriage laws of Australia, as well as other jurisdictions:
Although our recommendations for reform might seem radical to some, they are neither novel nor untested… Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, also operate modern, fit-for-purpose schemes, which give couples significant choice over where and how their weddings can be celebrated. By bringing the law up to date, our recommendations will make the law in England and Wales more similar to the laws in these countries.Law Commission, 2022
But will the Government act? And will this be done right – putting an end to discrimination and to (quite frankly) dull, impersonal weddings for marrying couples across England & Wales?
Time will tell. The paperwork is currently sitting on the desk of Lord Bellamy and his department at the Ministry of Justice, who are now well overdue in giving their response. And while we wait, the campaign for wedding freedom is gathering momentum from celebrants and couples alike.
Celebrant weddings in the UK
Of course a huge number of ‘wedding celebration ceremonies’ in England and Wales are already led by professional and qualified independent celebrants (over 10,000 weddings a year). But the current law dictates that couples choosing this option must complete their marriage legalities separately at the register office, incurring an added cost and inconvenience.
In Scotland and Northern Ireland, humanist celebrants have been authorised to conduct legally biding weddings since 2018. But we do not believe this is the right approach to follow in England & Wales. A system authorising humanist celebrants alone still requires the couple to identify with the joint belief system of humanism, thus excluding those in mixed-faith relationships and those with less defined beliefs.
Independent celebrant weddings in England & Wales already outnumber humanist weddings by around 10:1. Look up the word ‘celebrant’ on Google and it’s highly likely you’ll find officiants who are not in fact humanist, but independent in nature.
So why, in the 21st century, are we still stuck in a system where a marrying couple must be led by their officiant’s beliefs? Why can’t couples sign on the dotted line at a chosen time and location, and in their own unique style?
Is it time to be more like the Aussies?!
In July 2022 the Law Commission published its long-awaited final report into wedding law reform in England and Wales. Its recommendations to government focus on moving to an officiant-based system, whereby the officiant (e.g. celebrant, registrar, minister) would be licensed to carry out the marriage rather than the venue. This is similar to the system…
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In 2021, 80% of Australian weddings were officiated by a Civil Celebrant. AOIC Policy Manager Sophie Easton examines why this makes getting married Down Under so different – and why the UK should take a leaf from the Aussies’ book! The statistics speak for themselves. In 2021, 80.7% of marrying couples in Australia chose a…
Here we examine why our wedding laws are at risk of becoming even more exclusive, using examples from real weddings to highlight why future law reform must include all beliefs, outlooks and cultures. The humanist wedding campaign is gathering momentum and it seems likely that England & Wales will follow suit with Scotland & Northern…