This article of mine was published in the Australian Humanist – Summer 2015. Since Phillip Ruddock made his statement on QandA, Clive Palmer has come up with a plan that sounds very much the same. Here is the full text of my article.
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:-
(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.
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
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.
be gentle with criticism –
refuse to stonewall –
not to let anything fester
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!
The compact is a road map to a happy life. No agreed roadmap should contain unresolved conflicts. Seek reputable marriage preparation counselling.
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.
Tuesday, 30 June 2015
The Hon Philip Ruddock, Parliament House, CANBERRA. ACT 2600
Dear Mr Ruddock,
Re same-sex and heterosexual marriage
The French Model
Since the dawn of history, marriage has transformed strangers into relatives, binding families and societies together.
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.
Marriage is a keystone of our social order.
Justice Anthony Kennedy
I am writing to seek to persuade you to desist from considering the “French Model” as blueprint for the administration of civil marriage in Australia. I would seek to persuade you to go completely the other way. The “French Model” would be a terrible step backwards.
You may be astounded to know that I consider you to be the best Attorney-General we have had in recent years. I say this despite the fact that in “olden times” you attacked me in the Parliament (MP Lashes “Pagan Rites”, Tony O’Leary, Melbourne Sun, 18-8-1978).
But when you became Attorney-General my colleagues and I observed how you carried out your desk work conscientiously – detailed attention to your responsibilities, from which we all benefitted. We also noted with appreciation how you attempted to give civil celebrants some support and encouragement. I recall your attempt to give us some recognition with a certificate signed by yourself as Attorney-General, a plan which was completely and utterly sabotaged by the then relevant officers of the public service.
What I most appreciated was when you supported me in teaching ceremony topics in the original years of Ongoing Professional Development (OPD). You read my letter, you agreed with the contents and you acted on it. We both did a good thing there. Those original OPD topics set a great tone and direction in the celebrant program before that same ignorant group of public servants (non-celebrants, of course) sabotaged that too. So in the slipstream of those events, the informed celebrants of that era have good feelings towards you.
It was you personally, who early in 2007, pointed out that it was OK for same sex couples to be recorded in a Register but “not to have a ceremony”. (Ceremony not for Gays, says Ruddock, Kenneth Nguyen, The Age, Feb 8-2007) You strongly implied that it is ceremony that confers dignity – and you did not think that same-sex couples were entitled to such dignity at that stage of history.
Mr Ruddock, you do see what the “French Model” does. Same sex or straight couples in marriage are all reduced to non-ceremony status. Instead of uplifting all persons to a level of dignity and status, such as is conferred by a ceremony, all parties are reduced to “just record it in a book” status.
It is all right to say, in an off-hand way such as you did on the ABC’s Q and A that “they can go to a church later and have a ceremony. if they want to” but how many will do that now that church allegiance has declined so dramatically?
And where do secular people go “if they want to”? To civil celebrants? When they are already legally married?
Let me tell you what has happened under your successors – the Attorney-Generals who have followed you.
Take numbers of celebrants. Whereas 1600 were enough for Australia up to 2003, and 2000 would have been more than enough, and 2500 would have been excessive, your successors appointed 11,000 !!! (They have got the numbers down a bit by charging money but the scene is still so very diluted it is harmful.)
The results of this monstrous maladministration were predictable: good celebrants resigned in disgust, the excessive competition led to price-cutting wars, standards were forced down, cheap and demeaning advertising abounded, gimmickry flourished, kitsch obliterated taste, doggerel drowned classic poetry — status and dignity were lost.
Many Registered Training Organisations are the disgrace of Australian Education (Victorian Government launches crackdown on ‘dodgy’ training providers, ABC News Melbourne, 29-6-2015 and so many other reports) , Those RTOs jumped on to the exploitation bandwagon by adding celebrancy to their list, and taking their lead from the same wretched public servants to whom I referred, only taught “legal trivia” – much of it, not only unimportant, but erroneous. One non-celebrant taught hundreds of other non-celebrants how to be celebrants for over six years! Your successors, despite many warnings from concerned celebrants and citizens, ignored this exploitation for over a decade.
The celebrancy topics you and I agreed on – music, poetry, prose, symbolism, choreography, story telling, personal stories, and myth did not even get a look in. The personal, social and cultural value of ceremony did not get past their purposely glassed over eyes. Creative ceremonial writing, competent ceremonial public speaking, use of PA systems, mentoring of new celebrants by competent and successful celebrants in the field, became of no consequence. In short, your successors, by their ignorance and limited vision, have all but destroyed us.
And then we come to values. The cheap shot at civil celebrants is that we lack “Christian” values. Actually we don’t. Secular and religious persons in Australia share most good values. Be that as it may, ceremonies are one of the main ways which express, transmit and reinforce values. As an aware celebrant (I hope) I am very conscious of this great advantage to our society. Personally created ceremonies, such as civil celebrants were established to provide, do this very well. But take us to the “French model” and the culture will lose one of the main ways values are preserved, strengthened and carried forward.
And now we come to the arts. And I notice that the current Attorney-General is a lover of poetry and is also Minister for the Arts. One would think …..
Be that as it may, ceremonies are the bridge between the arts and the people. For example, for many ordinary people ceremonies are the only occasion that they hear the poets. In the ceremonies at which I have officiated I have either heard or read the poetry of William Shakespeare, Bryce Courtenay, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Kahlil Gibran, Rabindranath Tagore, Banjo Paterson, Pam Ayres, Christina Rossetti, Robert Burns, Christopher Brennan, Jean Bollen, Rupert Brooke, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christopher Marlowe, e.e. cummings. Michael Leunig, Thomas Davidson, John Donne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Kate Fisher, M.D.Hughes, D.H. Lawrence, Gloria Matthew, Rod McKuen, John Milton, J.H.Newman, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Liana Preston, James Whitcomb Reilly, Jamie Samms, Canon Henry Scott-Holland , Sir Phillip Sidney, Robert Louis Stevenson, Dylan Thomas, Mark Twain and Leonard Cohen.
Most of these poems are “value packed” and are classic. They are understandable at the first reading, and when heard for the first time. I have had up to nine readers of poetry in a ceremony, trained and practised in a rehearsal, who, on the day of the wedding, held the guests spellbound.
In a civil ceremony we also often connect with with our society’s composers and musicians, and directly and indirectly with whole range of other artists – hairdressers, dressmakers, photographers and many more. Strip ceremony out of the culture in the “French model” and you lose all this.
The classic basic text used in many university settings which explores ceremony in depth is the famous research of the anthropologist, Arnold Van Gennep. He wrote the book translated as The Rites of Passage. Inter alia, van Gennep observed that participants in prepared ceremonies of substance were changed in themselves. They thought about themselves differently, others thought about them differently (so evident in a marriage ceremony). There are similar wonderful insights into the worth of secular/civil ceremony in the works of Joseph Campbell, Ronald Grimes, David Oldfield (USA!), Margaret Mead, Alain de Botton, Robert Fulford, Mircia Eliade and Louise Mahdi. These inspiring writers could be part of every celebrant training program.
It gets worse – the lost possibilities! In the current mess, and given the rate of youth suicide, the adolescent ceremony which Australia most needs, and which I broached with you and your successors, receives no mention – not even on the radar.
Whereas competent celebrants could give much more dignity to individual citizenship ceremonies, as we then proposed, the issue is dead. You recall from your time as Minister for Immigration how citizenship is not attained until the person takes the pledge in a ceremony. Celebrants could make an enriching contribution here. A good cultural scene could be further improved with the stroke of an enlightened pen.
In the funeral field, most Funeral Directors, by effectively controlling the fees paid to celebrants, force down standards. The Funeral Directors keep the fees low, thus forcing many celebrants with high ideals out of the vocation. Celebrants are the most exploited people in the funeral industry. The ACCC is seen to support Funeral Directors in their collusion (legal or illegal) to control celebrant fees. They, being big business, have their lobbyists, employed to progress their money making ambitions. We have no champion.
Before the tsunami of numbers, and the exploitation by the so-called “educators” we were on the verge of substantial success with all this. Living as we do in a mainly a secular society, we had (and still have) the opportunity of enriching lives with an acceptable and elevated secular culture. We could have done so much more for this country with just a little leadership, support and encouragement. We have had the opposite.
And may I beg you finally – whatever you may think of my views and opinions – please may I not be characterised as writing to you out of self interest.. I am 77 years of age. I am 80% retired. I am not “after business”. I believe I am like you. I am out to better my world and my country.
For a long while Australia led the world in civil celebrancy. It still could – with your influential help.
With best personal wishes,
Dally Messenger III
Source of Information: The French Model and Ruddock
We all used to do this for the first 30 years of the program. Sometimes the parents, sometimes the groomsmen and the bridesmaids, would sign. In doing so they felt of real significance and part of the ceremony.. (The two witnesses were in their normal place on the certificate)
Then you-know-who invented, out of that falsely legal head of hers, another new baseless rule, and added it to the pile of legal trivia which now constitutes the marriage celebrants of Australia.
New inexperienced celebrants somehow got to teach OPD. Some (not all) seemed to love these new invented rules, and seemed to love showing off their recently invented knowledge with great authority. The end result? In doing so they killed off that little bit of joy that people gained by being a little bit more part of the event.
The dictum of the law is – in dubiis libertas – in doubtful things freedom –
There is a law which says two of the witnesses must sign – but where oh where is there a law forbidding other witnesses to sign?
The real issue here is taking away from people the joy of looking at their Marriage Certificate and remembering who the key people were.
The signing was a dignified joyous moment – and sometimes that wonderful wedding singer was able to sing three songs instead of two. The singers also felt more part of the event.
Another observation. If you ring an inexperienced public servant in the AG’s office and ask the question – “can I do this?” – to cover their behind, the safest thing they can say is “No”. ( My observation is that they do not do any course of study; just like most celebrants of the you-know-who era they pick it up as they go – learn from their mistakes – good old victim-based learning).
I hope (I urge) everyone who reads this far also to read the never-ever-ever taught Section 48 of the Marriage Act – http://www.collegeofcelebrancy.com.au/pages4/Sect_48-Marriage_Act.html -. It is the most valuable part of the Marriage Act. It is a freeing experience. A good understanding of it will help a celebrant concentrate on what is our real and original task – enriching the culture with ceremonies that keep getting better.
The Civil Celebrant and the Diploma Course.
It is difficult to explain my position briefly but let me start by saying I totally favour the CoCa position of the Diploma being the minimum requirement for celebrancy.
In 1995 at the invitation of the AGs Department eighteen of us celebrants devised a course of three Diplomas in Celebrancy (Marriage, Funeral and General).
This International College of Celebrancy course was, and still is, rich with inspiring and motivating theory. It tracked the achievements and ideals and values of the main religions in the cultural, social and personal realm and applied these lessons to our predominantly secular cultural scene (secular spirituality if you like).
Creating the course and refining it over sixteen years.
The eighteen celebrants who, with academic advice, created our eight module course dealt with questions such as the history of ceremony, why we have ceremony, and what the psychological, social and cultural effects of ceremony are. We researched why we have a link between the unity of a ceremony and the full range of the visual and performing arts. We articulated and discussed the question of why it is better to do a good ceremony than a mediocre one in a secular context. We discussed the effects, for example, of a marriage ceremony on the conscious and unconscious mind, and how ceremonies have been created to help human beings to adjust to changes in human life.
In deepening our understanding of the celebrant role we, of course, turned to the anthropologists, sociologists, commentators and historians in the field. The pivotal but difficult book, Arnold Van Gennep’s “The Rite of Passage, of course was central. But there was also insights and inspiration in the works of Joseph Campbell, Ronald Grimes, David Oldfield (USA!), Margaret Mead, Alain de Botton and Louise Mahdi.
A Cultural Infrastructure of Ceremonies
As we studied these works we came to realise that we were blessed by Attorney-General Lionel Murphy with a pivotal, unique, innovative and challenging celebrant role. We realised we had been charged with developing a cultural infrastructure of ceremonies, which replaced the rejected supernatural infrastructure of the religions, but which expresses, transmits, and reinforces the wonderful and enriching artistic treasures and deep and evolved values we have inherited from the religious influences which have formed western society.
We also studied, for example, how a creative funeral ceremony aids in triggering the process of healthy grief and the maintenance of sanity and much more.
A Course in celebrancy cannot be superficial it must be transformative which means absorbing the content of a course over a suitable period. Quickie courses, beloved of capitalistic economists simply do not give a student the TIME to absorb, think and transform. Educationally, it does not work.
And as well as inspiring education there must be training and mentoring in the practical skills and actual ceremonial practice. Further additional skills such as creative writing and competent public speaking. A celebrant too must spend a great deal of time understanding the need for resources – knowing the great inheritance of poetry, music, prose, story-telling, mythology, symbolism, choreography and the visual arts – many need to acquire a feel for the beauty in these components and how to apply them appropriately in a ceremony which means something. My colleagues and I have developed this at the then Attorney-General’s invitation. (But then when we downgraded in 2003 a new era emerged which concentrated on legal trivia – most of which was wrong anyway. Hence the 6 changes of the official guidelines for celebrants.)
I stood on this hill in this small country town. It could have been any one of hundreds of country towns in Australia. I counted five churches. One could tell that they were all in disrepair, either no longer used or the numbers sadly depleted.
I asked myself what went on here. These institutions once transmitted the influences which formed our society – but they have lost their mojo, who and what is there to replace them? What cultural infrastructure do we have to replace the religio-cultural infrastructure we had here?
That was a eureka moment for me. I hope I can pass it on to you. In your hands you have this marvellous opportunity to intelligently contribute to the education and formation of the cvil celebrant of the future – hopefully part of a team of celebrants so well educated and trained that they will have a lasting positive effect on our society.
This website sets out the eight Modules, the three Diplomas, the Graduate Diploma and the opportunity to achieve the award of Master of Celebrancy. (only one of students has ever achieved this.
Dally Messenger III
Our Diploma of Marriage Celebrancy (international College of Celebrancy) has had this course, this material, this research done for twenty years.
Brian McInerney died on December 22nd, 2014
This heart was woven of human joys and cares,
Washed marvellously with sorrow,
swift to mirth.
The years had given him kindness.
Dawn was his,
and the colours of the earth.
He had seen movement,
and heard music;
known Slumber and waking;
gone proudly friended;
Felt the quick stir of wonder;
Touched flowers and furs and cheeks.
All this is ended.
(slightly adapted from Rupert Brooke)
Brian McInerney was a man who could read, write and speak. He was a man of many parts but here I just want to talk about him as a funeral celebrant.
I first met him in 1972 when he was executive producer of English language radio programs for the ABC’s Radio Australia.The pressure of the job was affecting his health, so he resigned from the ABC in 1975.
The recently created marriage celebrant program established by the Attorney General Lionel Murphy had been enthusiastically received by the general public.
Marriages are very happy occasions and the original celebrants enjoyed their task immensely – but inevitably there came the time when clients of celebrants required non-church funerals. The marriage celebrant community, consonant with the culture of the times, vehemently rejected the idea of officiating at secular funerals. So we could fill the need, Murphy (then a Justice of the High Court) urged me and others to go out into the “highways and byways” and find non-marriage celebrants to respond to the need.
Mr “Golden Voice” from the ABC, as Brian Mcinerney was known, became one of the first funeral celebrants. He stepped into this totally new field as if he had done it all his life. He was such a natural. Brian was probably the most well read, best self-educated person I have ever met. Family members told me that he had read the complete works of Dickens before he turned fifteen years of age. In the days before Google and the internet, Brian was the “go to” person if you had a line or quote from a poem and you needed to know the source.
Today’s readers will find it difficult to comprehend that there was no such thing as a non-church funeral in the mid 70s. McInerney was a pioneer who established the new freedom and who set the new standard. For the first time in Western cultural history ordinary people were farewelled in a funeral ceremony which was framed by appropriate and carefully selected poetry, prose, music, symbolism, myths, and stories. The life of the person was recorded, their achievements recognised, and their character and personality described in a eulogy which set their special place in family and community history.
Brian, more than any of us, gained the reputation of writing eulogies for ordinary people which bordered on the masterful. The connections to history, the allusions to literature, were skilfully inserted with animation and colour.
A new and exciting phenomenon, celebrants were, at this time, widely reported in the media. Brian Mcinerney was often featured. One famous account relates the funeral of the father of the family who evoked the story of the Knight in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”. Brian centred his eulogy around the story of the Knight and in doing so uplifted the spirits of everyone who attended the funeral. What he didn’t know was that one of the man’s children had arrived from the USA on the morning of ceremony. This young woman was a lecturer in 14th Century English Literature at Harvard University. Expecting a “nothing” funeral, she had the thrill of hearing her father eulogised in terms of the Knight.
Up to 1995 or so funeral celebrants throughout Melbourne were often called on to create funerals for the soldiers who had survived World War II. At our meetings and seminars, Brian would inspire his fellow celebrants with the poetry of Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. When Brian began to recite –
“Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge …”
we knew, in the vividness of our imagination, we were going to be transported to the horror of war. Thus inspired by Brian, we composed funerals for those old soldiers which did them proud.
The end of the eighties /early nineties was a time of high inflation in Australia. Brian and his wife Tina had three young children and were feeling the pinch financially. He needed to increase his income and so asked the funeral directors with whom he worked to give him a rise in fees. He had come to believe that the people he knew in the funeral industry were his personal friends and collaborators. They would understand his position and recognise his contribution. But at this request the smiles went off their faces. He learned later from one of them that they had rung around and decided to “put him in his place”. All funeral work suddenly ceased.
Brian was deeply hurt and disillusioned. To survive he had to capitulate. I don’t think he ever recovered his faith in human nature after that. To maintain his income with what had become a pittance of a fee, he had to take on more funerals and lower his standards – a decision which always cuts deep into the heart of the true professional. His health slowly deteriorated and he gradually withdrew from funeral celebrancy. But in his first twenty years of work he had set a benchmark standard for secular people in western society. The thousands of written records which survive his pen will be the joy of family genealogists and historians for centuries to come.
(Brian is survived by his wife Tina, his daughter from his first marriage, Jane, his stepdaughter Amy, his son Michael and daughter Sophie. A commemoration ceremony will be held for him on February 8.)
Brian McInerney recites the World War 1 Wilfred Owen Poem – Dulce et Decorum est.
Dulce et Decorum est. Explanation of the text
Dulce et Decorum est – the Poem
There are many more issues which I have outlined in fate following articles and blogs:
I would like to ask the Attorney-General to consider the following.
I could add much more to this, but I would love to ask the Minister to take an interest in his obligations to the cultural life of our country. I have given most of my life to celebrancy (most of it voluntarily) only to see most of the gains we have made destroyed by some public servants, who attempted to “build an empire”. They have near destroyed a program which has changed the face of Australia for the better at a very deep level.