Civil Celebrant Program under Threat

This article of mine was published in the Australian Humanist – Summer 2015. Since Phillip Ruddock made his statement on QandAClive Palmer has come up with a plan that sounds very much the same. Here is the full text of my article.

AH_HSV_CMC-Article-TopCIVIL CELEBRANT PROGRAM UNDER THREAT

The unique Australian Civil Celebrant Program was and is a great social and political initiative. For over forty years it has enabled secular humanists to free themselves from religious connections. Unfortunately, in the last ten years this program has been partially destroyed, and certainly greatly diminished by hostile (religious?) public servants and politicians.

The very existence of the civil celebrant is now is under serious threat. It is close to possible annihilation. If the enemies of secularism do succeed in finishing it off, it will go without bang or whimper – ceasing to exist while still under the radar.

This possible death sentence was casually dropped in the ABCs “Q and A” program some weeks ago. In answer to a question, the panellist, Phillip Ruddock QC, MP stated, as an aside, that if gay marriage was approved by the Australian parliament “perhaps we should adopt the French model for all marriages.” The remark went unnoticed.

The “French model” basically means that there is a central office, like the 1973 Sydney Registry Office, wherein a couple records their marriage in a computer or a book, and goes away with a receipt.(1)

Mr Ruddock did point out that if anyone, perchance, wished to have a ceremony thereafter, they could proceed with their receipt to “a church or similar venue” and have one.

Mr Ruddock seemed to have some authority from the federal Liberal cabinet (then under Tony Abbott) to advise on the Marriage Act. So I wrote to Mr Ruddock. I sought to dissuade him from this path.(2) Space does not allow me to repeat the full letter here but in summary I pointed out:-

  1. That secular people (Humanists) have emotional, psychological, social, and artistic needs and feelings just as everyone else does. Therefore, we need ceremony just as much as our religious forbears did or our religious contemporaries do.
  1. That the civil celebrant program had almost embedded itself in the Australian secular psyche but, just as it was having substantial success, in 2003 it was cut off at the knees.
  2. Since 2003 the civil celebrant program has been seriously weakened by:-
  • the appointment of 9000 unnecessary celebrants (3)
  • the encouragement of dodgy “trainers”, who knew nothing and taught even less (4)

(c) The legal transference of appointment and administrative power from the federal Attorney-General to a public servant. (5)

(d) the diversion of the program from ceremony quality to an intensive preoccupation with legal trivia – most of which was erroneous, unimportant, and dishonest.

(e) The loss of our honoured title as Civil Marriage Celebrant. In 2003 we became jumbled up with the clergy of small churches, given the same title as them (Commonwealth Authorised Marriage Celebrants), and, after protest, were given the sub title “those who choose to do civil ceremonies”.

In short I told Mr Ruddock that I was aware that many people would not look on a celebrant as a sufficiently desirable ceremony provider, once a couple were told they were legally married. Celebrants then need not be authorised. A few couples would probably do what some secular couples do now when they want formal dignity in their ceremony — go to the church!

Attorney-General and High Court Justice Lionel Murphy -(First Humanist of the Year), who founded the Civil Celebrant program believed that a secular person in our society was equal in dignity to a religious person. That equal dignity and substance in ceremonies was the yardstick which would clarify this in the mind of every citizen.

He believed that our culture was so rich in music, literature, stories, symbolism and all the components of ceremony that we could develop an idealistic value filled, identity confirming secular/humanist culture which would enrich the life of every Australian.

FOOTNOTES

  • Readers should note carefully that the French Model is not like the United States or New Zealand model. In those jurisdictions you are given a “licence” to have ceremony – but you are not married until you have that ceremony.
  • Anyone who wishes to read my full letter to Mr Ruddock can find it here – https://iccdiplomas.com/2015/07/12/the-french-model-mr-ruddock/
  • 11,000 altogether when 2000 celebrants would be more than enough for the country.
  • Now well documented by the Age and the ABC e.g. (Victorian Government Launches Crackdown on ‘dodgy’ Training Providers, ABC News Melbourne, 29-6-2015 and so many other reports) .
  • Section 39 of the Marriage Act 1961 used to be a simple provision, empowering the Attorney-General to appoint celebrants. Now this Section is overloaded with paragraph after paragraph regarding the “Powers of the Registrar”. These provisions should never have found their way into the Marriage Act. At most they should have been internal protocols of the Department.

Dally Messenger III was appointed a celebrant in 1974. He is the Principal of the International College of Celebrancy, and is the author of the book, Murphy’s Law and the Pursuit of Happiness: A History of the Civil Celebrant Movement

 

 

 

The Wedding Vows as a Compact

THE ROADMAP FOR THE MARRIAGE
Hi, My name is Dally Messenger
I ‘ve been a Civil Marriage Celebrant for 40 years.
This is about writing your own vows for your marriage. ceremony.Vows as compact.

This is possible now since the Australian Attorney General Lionel Murphy founded Civil Celebrants in 1973 – to bring dignity into the lives of non-church people through ceremonies of meaning and substance. In those days the only alternative to a church ceremony was a very anemic and humiliating “so-called” ceremony in a registry office.

So Murphy, in a revolutionary way, established the right of people to create their own marriage ceremony, which included the composition of that most important part of that ceremony – the vows. Instead of vows coming from somewhere else – God, the Church, the Government, — Murphy’s dream was that they would come from the experienced heart – from you.

But how do you do this?
The best approach I can suggest to you is a way  to carefully make a compact. That is, after all, what marriage is – compact. (Don’t like the word – contract). My conviction on this insight came from a woman commentator on the BBC. She criticised the vows in the Church of England wedding ceremony because it was not a compact.
The ceremony should be the roadmap for the marriage.Often it was not a sincere agreement.

It is important that you give this compact — the words mean “a coming together to make peace”– expressed in your vows to each other – very serious thought.

Now what a well trained celebrant (or relationship educator in some cases) – will suggest to you, and help you put into good words, is this compact.

How do you go about this?
First, for an hour or so, each of you should go your separate ways!
You should sit down in a corner somewhere with a writing pad or clipboard, or at a desk ,or at the keyboard, and think carefully – then compile a shopping list of what you want the other person to promise you – your wish list of promises.

You might, for example, want you partner to:-

be gentle with criticism –
avoid sulkiness
refuse to stonewall –
not to let anything fester
listen sensitively
listen without trying to solve the problem
be totally loyal and faithful
Promise to give you space.
encourage fun and
to maintain a sense of humour.

Bettina Arndt interviewed 100 couples. 80 % were not happy because one party or the other denied the partner physical intimacy. This is such a distressing finding.
So you may wish to promise the other to do you best – that is what all vows are anyway – it is about attitude really – emotional, spiritual, and physical intimacy.

Then you must come together and – forgive the word – marry your lists!

Sometimes this a tad confronting. If you cannot achieve this then you really should think twice about getting married.

The compact is a road map to a happy life. No agreed roadmap should contain  unresolved conflicts. Seek reputable marriage preparation counselling.

Relationships are difficult – But they promise the greatest happiness life can give. Here is one example from my celebrant experience (or close to it!)

I, John,
thank you, Mary, for trusting me,
and claiming me as your closest friend.
As far as I am able
I promise to treat you respectfully,
and speak to you respectfully, at all times.
I will be gentle and positive
with any criticism I consider I have to express
I will try never to cut you off,
or stonewall you in difficult moments.
I will speak frankly, but softly,
rather than let any resentment fester.
I ask you to listen to me when I need to talk,
and I promise to listen to you
when you need me as your listening friend.
I promise to be loyal and faithful to you
I promise to give you your space, when you need it
and I ask the same of you.
I will happily sustain the fun, and humour
we have experienced in our relationship.
I promise to do my best, every day,
to encourage a marriage
 characterised by
emotional, spiritual,
and physical intimacy.
Therefore, I John, call upon the persons here present,
to witness, that I take you Mary, to be my lawful wife.

 

© D.Messenger – permission given to brides and grooms to use, adapt in whole or in part in a marriage ceremony, without acknowledgment.
This extract is part of the International College of Celebrancy Wedding Diploma. No permission is given to republish without my permission on the internet or in any publication and certainly not without acknowledgement. Permission will be readily given for bona fide use (I have given several celebrants permission to send/give to clients .