Marriages are up, divorces are down

AAP Report in Melbourne Age. August 29 2008 ( I wrote this a while ago before I started this blog – the facts are still valid – as facts always are. )

So wherever I am, there’s always Pooh,
There’s always Pooh and Me.
‘What would I do?’ I said to Pooh,
‘If it wasn’t for you,’ and Pooh said: ‘True,
It isn’t much fun for One, but Two
Can stick together,’ says Pooh, says he.
‘That’s how it is,’ says Pooh, says he.
‘That’s how it is,’ says Pooh. 

(A.A.Milne- Now we are Six)


Although this was written in 2014 we have chosen these years for reasons which will be clear from the article.

Pooh is right. It is much more fun when there are two, and, as Pooh further points out – mutual support is an additional bonus. Since 1973 civil celebrants have established dignity in personalised marriage ceremonies. From the same time period, the Australian Family Law Act has injected relative dignity to the legal sealing of a relationship break-up.

If you disagree with my propositions – you simply haven’t lived long enough.

When Attorney-General Lionel Murphy battled his heart out to take the unnecessary pain and expense out of fault-and-blame divorce laws, and set in train a system to bring dignity and meaning into marriage ceremonies, I, for one, knew that, sooner or later, the good effects must become apparent.

Australia is unique in all the world. Except for New Zealand, who followed the Murphy principles in some ways better than we did, the Australian Civil Celebrant has injected something special and unique into the Australian cultural scene.

There would be few who would disagree that in the 1960s and 70s many marriages in the Christian churches were inherently dishonest, and most marriages in the Registry Offices were a humiliation. Those who did marry were mainly driven by convention, very few by the personal conviction that they needed a solemn ceremonial commitment. The institution of marriage was seen by leading feminists, for example, as a state in itself oppressive to women.

Those young women who didn’t go that far, saw themselves as choosing between a marriage ceremony, where the male was clearly spiritually superior (and they were inferior), or a civil marriage in a Registry Office. The latter would take place before a poker-faced official – the legal words lasting, at the most, a minute. These “marriage ceremonies” took place on weekdays only, with only two witnesses allowed. Most saw this as an event no even partially sensitive person should have to face.

Divorces2001-08As a corollary to this, divorce laws were obscenely expensive and totally legally dishonest.

Lionel Murphy, acting almost alone, did away with all this. He gathered around himself a group of people, among which I proudly number myself, whom he asked to bring dignity, meaning and culture back into the non-church marriage ceremony.

To those few who understood his visionary explanation, it was alarming and radical. What? Couples designing their own ceremony? What? Couples choosing their own place and time? What? Couples choosing their own celebrant? No, no, Lionel! The church or the public servant decide the ceremony, the officials decide the words and the place, the common people should do as they are told — if they want to be married.

Now, in 2009, we are all familiar with the repercussions of those dishonest and humiliating marriage ceremonies. I doubt if there is any country in the world where people live together in de facto relationships to the extent we do in Australia.

Not quite noticing that the scene had began to improve, and as time went on, these de facto couples demanded that that they be treated the equal of people who had been through a ceremony. The politicians acquiesced. The Democratic clamour of the people had to be recognised. What was a marriage ceremony anyway ? Just some froth and bubble — some mumbo-jumbo — a few words that entitled you to a piece of paper!

In contrast, followers of the Lionel Murphy vision believed that ceremonies are a valuable means of deep psychological orientation — and we should have them all the time – for every milestone in life. They are an essential means of personally serious and public communication. The “Sorry Ceremony” last year was a class example. The word “Sorry” in a ceremonial context changed people’s lives, reduced them to weeping, recognised and released pent up years of pain, and validated interior screaming. But the “Sorry Ceremony” was contentious. “Mere words” said one group. “Only actions mean something”. The philosopher rose up and said, “but words are actions”.

And then, last year, Barack Obama was made President of the United States. If he hadn’t had a ceremony, he would still be President of the United States. So why did he have one? What difference did it make? But he did have a ceremony — thousands gathered in Washington DC from around the world. Millions watched the ceremony on TV. It was a spellbinding event; it had great meaning. His choices of music and poetry and songs — his choice of speech words and vows were the “roadmap” (to use a modern concept) for his presidency.

In the same way a marriage ceremony can be, and ought to be, and so often now is, a “roadmap” . It sets out a couple’s commitment to attempt to establish a fulfilling, happy and positive relationship. With the assistance of a civil celebrant who “gets it” the couple can make a compact. They can exchange vows which abjure contempt, renounce stonewalling, modify defensiveness, and envelop criticism in kindness. Couples can declare equality, honesty and open communication. They can promise to express love, re-assurance, and support. They can (as Bettina Arndt proposes they do) seriously commit to maintaining a life of intimacy at every level.

Marriages up, divorces down, the ghost of Lionel Murphy will be smiling.

Dally Messenger III

Editors Note: In 2003 the Civil Marriage Celebrant program was seriously downgraded. In blunt terms the government passed the administration into the hands of a public servant (The Registrar). They have since appointed 10,500 celebrants when 2000 would have been more than enough for Australia – with predictable results and a deterioratiing marriage/divorce scene.

The Lionel Murphy Civil Celebrant – A Fit and Proper Person – Suzanne Ingleton


Is the founder of the Civil Celebrant Program. Most celebrants – especially the excessive numbers since the tragic downgrading of 2003 – have never heard of him – or his ideals of professionalism and quality.MLATPOH_

What should happen – Lionel Murphy and his work should be known and honoured. Those who drink the water, should remember those who dug the well. His achievements should be the subject of a three hour OPD (at least).

No unaccountable officer or even an accountable officer should have the power to destroy people’s lives by making such a decision about a person, or branding a person in such a way.
In the Age of the Internet this tag of not “fit and proper” on a person’s reputation is like a criminal record. Used in a cavalier way by a public servant, I have seen it almost destroy one person’s life. The decision about this celebrant is still on the internet!

What should happen – Applications to become a celebrant should simply be accepted or rejected without such branding. Reasons should be given for such a rejection and an appeal process, which an ordinary person can afford, should be part of the process. Better still, as has often been proposed, a balanced committee should decide how many celebrants are needed to provide a balance in a natural geographical area. Would be celebrants should apply, be shortlisted in the usual manner by an independent person, and the best applicants should be chosen.

Abuse of power by the public service in the Attorney-General’s Department

Take the police – as I write this there are 61 police officers with charges against them in Victoria. In other words, people who have legal powers, as individuals, should be accountable. The police have the OPI – Office of Police Integrity – to check on the abuse of power – the public service has no one to check on them. (The ombudsman and the AAP have in a very restricted number of cases. The ombudsman only intervenes if it is in the previous 12 months, and the AAP is very expensive (legal representation). It is no use complaining to the Minister because the letter usually goes straight through to the public servant one is complaining about !
So where can the celebrant or citizen turn for redress when such power is abused? To declare a person, not “fit and proper” should not be allowed except under the signature of the Minister and then in only very serious circumstances.

Suzanne Ingleton – a case of abuse by the Attorney-General’s Department

In the case of Suzanne Ingleton – a person declared not “fit and proper” by the Registrar of Marriages – the Administrative Appeals Tribunal upbraided the Registrar for

– signing a false affidavit

– interpreting the law wrongly

– acting “ultra vires”

– disrespect for the tribunal

– making a groundless decision etc

–   -no action was ever taken ! Ms Ingleton is still on the internet as being accused.

Celebrants – what is and what ought to be – #5


Couples had a choice approved by the Department. This was taken away for no reason, and a cumbersome ineffective recording of numbered certificates was put in place – a system which is not working and could not possibly work – and which leads nowhere and does nothing. It is operates more in the breach than the observance (especially by my clergy friends). It is counter-productive in that gives a veneer of security when the opposite is the case.

What should happen – Choice of certificates should be restored to the parties to a marriage. Publishers of certificates should have them checked and approved – and be adequately supervised and workable safeguards and warnings. If authenticity is needed to be checked details of how to do so (including the celebrant’s contact details) could be printed on the back of the certificate.

Almost every authority relies on the certificate issued by the State Departments of Births, Deaths, and Marriages. It was always enough before this harmful change

We were titled Civil Marriage Celebrants from the beginning. We are now mixed up on government lists with fringe clergy who are now mingled with us on statistical reports and for OPD – Ongoing Professional Development. This was done by stealth. Also done by stealth were the appointments of some persons who have been authorised as Civil Celebrants AND clergy  – thus confusing the public. Clergy do not want it and neither do celebrants.

What should happen – The title “Civil Marriage Celebrants” should be re-applied and for good measure should be enshrined in law.

Clergy should be clearly classified as clergy.

For over thirty years separate statistics were compiled by Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) for the main religions, in general for the smaller religions, the Registry Office, and independent civil celebrants. This was all done away with when in the Downgrading of 2003 smaller religions, the registry office, and independent celebrants were all jumbled together statistically. The old statistics were very useful and told us a lot about our society.

What should happen – Statistics for Registry Office Marriages, Civil Celebrant Marriages, and church marriages should be kept separate for all number of good reasons.

Celebrants – what is and what ought to be. #4



No acceptable certificate by the government to Celebrants is issued, which a celebrant could put on display to reassure clients that we have been appointed. The certificate issued last year was bureaucratic humiliation.

What should happen – We should receive a carefully designed certificate Lionel Murphy issued a personally certificate to the early celebrants which instilled pride. Phillip Ruddock, I believe, wanted to do so but fell victim to the bureaucracy who gave an insulting one for him to sign.

Celebrants are the only government office not welcomed by a ceremony! All appointments of government have ceremony, citizens have a ceremony, JPs have a ceremony but civil celebrants (and indirectly the institution of marriage), are not to be honoured in any way. Why? Because in the eyes of those who have humiliated, intimidated and mismanaged us we are not worthy\.

What should happen – Ceremony providers, of all people,  should have  ceremony to honour their appointment. It should be of such substance as to be a life long inspiration. 

Government appointments, by their very nature, have a certain dignity.

What should happen – The office should be respected. Those who have achieved and eminence in the profession should be honoured. This office has been completely trivialised and treated with disdain. Over competitions and excessive appointments. Excessive,  bitter and degrading competition, characterised by tabloid style marketing and false advertising have become commonplace  among and have trivialised the office.
The Code of Practice should be strengthened in these areas and leadership from the top must encourage dignified behaviour.
Performance reviews should cover marketing and advertising practices.
Those who have completed dodgy, shonky courses should be re-trained by trainers of reputation.

Celebrants – what is and what ought to be. #3


What is happening?
What should be happening?

There are about twenty or so celebrant organisations – divided and ineffective. Some are run by “new” enthusiastic celebrants who, as yet, do not know anything.
In the past the Registrar and the Senior Public Servants have –

–  engineered this division on the “divide and conquer” theory.

–  have told various Attorneys-General that it is the fault of celebrants.

–  made all organisations ineffective buy tactical obfuscation (“Yes, we will note that”, “Yes, we will take that on board.” “That seems worth considering” etc etc).

What should happen. – There should be one, two, or at the most three celebrant organisations.  The elected representatives should be listened to and encouraged to provide constructive feedback from the coalface. This could easily be achieved as follows.
The Attorney-General (supported by his public servants) simply strongly and directly asks that celebrants come together. If this fails (and it won’t) he could require that an advisory committee (of say 10) celebrants be formed by preferential senate-like voting with whom he can consult, and then he should listen to no other organisation in an official capacity.


The original Registrar, in punitive mode, conducted these reviews from paperwork submitted. Farcically, against all established norms, no performance i.e in the conduct of a ceremony – was ever on the radar.

What should happen. – Performance Reviews of celebrants should be conducted by respectful and carefully selected peer celebrants. The primary assessment should be on the quality of the ceremony conducted – and the legal  obligations in connection with the ceremony. It should be constructive, encouraging and a contribution to genuine professionalism and service to the public.

This has been a good initiative, and on balance has done a certain amount of good – BUT the appointment of trainers (non-celebrants) has been unjust and unintelligent.

What should happen. – Creeping legalism has made most celebrants, but especially those who lack a good general education, paranoid about unimportant points of law. It has contributed to ignorance and a counter-productive preoccupation on the law and procedures, instead of the main responsibility of serving the public with ceremonies which have meaning, beauty and substance..

Celebrants – what is and what ought to be. #2


What is happening?  What should be happening?

There should not be a Registrar of Marriages. That such excessive power is given to a Public Servant militates against democracy, and transfers responsibility from the elected representative to an unelected bureaucrat – most of whose decisions cannot be appealed against.
Section 39 of the Act, listing all the powers of the Registrar, is an obscene intrusion from the Downgrading of 2003.
Other more important responsibilities of the Attorney-General are not under the control of a “Registrar”.
To have a “Registrar”, written into law, lets the elected Attorney-General off the hook – so he can wipe his hands and go out to dinner. (“Someone else’s problem”)

What should happen –  Section 39 should be returned to what it was before the Downgrading. Appointments of public servants should be by internal arrangement of the department and should not have any force in law. The Attorney-General should take responsibility foo his portfolio.
Celebrants, especially those who have experience and a good track record in ceremonies, and with years of experience, should be consulted and involved in decisions.
Sometimes, offensively, after the main decisions are made the Registrar consults some celebrants about fringe  and minor decisions thus pretending to consult. Pretending to consult is an offence against the public service Code of Conduct and should be punished.[3]

These are all given to Canprint without consideration of anyone else e.g. printing of marriage certificates – no one else can quote – no one else can tender.

What should happen -Tenders and contracts and retail rights should be offered to all reputable contractors.

Funding is never given to celebrants but excessive funding e.g. goes to Relationship Educators and Counsellors. Some time ago celebrants in Australia recently received a box of DVDs on Relationship Education which were not up to standard – we received them without briefing – without explanation. [4] They will simply be thrown out by most celebrants. [5]

What should happen – Funding should be given to celebrants on a careful basis. For example, of the millions of dollars spent preventing our high rate of Youth Suicide, celebrants should have been given a fee per adolescence ceremony aimed at strengthening the bonds between the disconnected teenager and their family, friends and community – expressing love, support and encouragement. Funding should go to celebrants to develop community ceremonies which strengthen bonds within the community, express, rein force and transmit the best of society’s values, and which help form a culture.


Celebrants – Leadership, Numbers, Training. #1


What is happening? What should be happening?

It is difficult to conceive of a government program that has been more mismanaged than the Civil Celebrant Program. Now is the time to attempt to try to fix it and get it right. We have a new Attorney-General and some new and, it seems, courteous public servants. ————————————————————————————————
LEADERSHIP – we haven’t had any – we haven’t even had an attempt at genuine interest or understanding for many years. Without a vision, the people perish. Nothing good can possibly happen until people in power take a real and genuine interest.

What should happen– the Attorney General and the public servants should cease the games of the past, and the dismissals of our concerns in the past, and assist us bring quality ceremonies to the Australian people. —————————————————————————————————
NUMBERS There is an excessive number of Celebrants. 1600 was enough, 2000 would be plenty, 2500 would be excessive – but we have 10,500! Also read this blog on The Numbers

What should happen –
There should be an immediate and indefinite Moratorium on appointments, and a program of reducing numbers begun immediately. There should be  balanced number of celebrants so that the public gets a sufficient and wide choice and celebrants themselves have a chance to develop and maintain skills and be given the chance to believe in what they are doing. In the first place The Attorney-General should ask every celebrant who was duped into applying on the promise of big and plentiful money, to resign. That should be the  first move. There are a number of other moves after that which could be made. ———————————————————————————————————— TRAINING
Most celebrants, in general, are badly trained in law and have virtually no training in ceremony.

What should happen – Celebrants should be trained especially well in ceremony and in law.
———————————————————————————————————— SYLLABUS AND METHOD OF TRAINING The syllabus for the training is inadequate and focussed too heavily on legal matters. Nationally Registered Training, based on the profit motive, compels the owners of RTOs to teach the least amount they can get away with, so that they can lower prices, and beat the competition. As such it is a failed and flawed system inherently and inexorably driven to lower and lower standards and thus internally programmed to self-destruct. Against all advice, previous Attorneys- General opened up to this  “Nationally Registered Training”.

As well as the basic deficiency mentioned above it is, as far as resources go, a leaderless, oppressively bureaucratic, and fractured-among-the-states system.  It is a  system open to exploitation. The “course” for celebrants, originally two years part time at Monash University, was gradually reduced to five, four, three, and finally two days, taught mostly, for seven years after the Downgrading of 2003 by non-celebrants. There now is a “Certificate IV” but it is still in the same system subject to the same inbuilt weaknesses.

What should happen – The syllabus, which the department, with some excellent public servants, got right in 1995, was badly diminished in the Downgrading of 2003. It should be taught by celebrant/educationists with proven skills in creating and delivering ceremonies, as well as the correct legal procedures. Such courses should be independently assessed and rated by properly briefed and genuine teachers who are not part of the current self defeating system. The training of celebrants should be adequate and more than adequate. It should be aimed not just “competence” in law  but in really high and professional standards in the creation of ceremonies, and with an awareness of the deep psychological and lasting good effects in the lives of individual and in the cultural infrastructure of society.

Celebrants: Bad Management: Excessive numbers

A celebrant friend wrote the following to me about the tragedy of Civil Marriage Celebrant Program and the results of Bad Management

The so called training institutions are spewing out some terrible so called celebrants – we have a couple here who do not understand the regulations at all – one recently conducted a surprise wedding (supposed to be a housewarming and the couple were married, to the groom’s surprise) and another conducts weddings without the 31 mandatory waiting period.The Goat Track.JPGWhen I discussed it with one of them the reaction was – oh, don’t be like that – rules are meant to be broken!! If I don’t do it, someone else will!!
It is about money, not rules and ethics and codes of conduct.
A videographer recently dropped off 4 weddings conducted by celebrants both here and in (town mentioned) – I was horrified as I watched them and it would have been a comedy show akin to Fawlty Towers or Big Girls Blouse if it was not a couples most special day.
There were scenes in some of them that you would have thought had been based on Monty Python.
“My town” is really beautiful, in spite of the 21 celebrants who roam around with their cars signwritten like a local plumber!!
Name and address Supplied!

I mentioned the report (with my friend’s permission) on Facebook. I received these comments:-

  • Nicole  What about celebrants who can’t pronounce simple words, speak with a lisp or make jokes in bad taste?
    You may now kiss the groom – I’m sure you’ve had plenty of practice with the best man.”

  • Jan  – we could write a book of the stories we’ve heard (including funeral celebrants)

  • Bill  This so frightfully common around Australia. What a disgrace, no amount of correspondence to the AG or registrar makes any difference. There are so many bad trainers in the system, in all MC training and even worse delivering opd, these trainers fail with one approved trainer and move to the next taking all of their inadequacies as trainers with them. Dally messenger lit a lamp with Lois D’Arcy and Lionel Murphy so let’s keep the lamp burning with honesty, justice and education integrity.

A Valid Marriage -Yes or No?

Was this older civil Marriage celebrant ignorant of the Marriage Act?

I’ve just witnessed (on video) a recent country wedding conducted by a civil celebrant. What astounded me was that the celebrant:
a. did not state they were legally authorised to conduct the marriage
b. the Monitum was not spoken
c. neither party to the marriage said the compulsory legal vow
This celebrant was authorised more than 20 years ago, according to the AGD register of civil celebrants so they’ve been around long enough to know better, or are there different rules for the “elders” amongst our ranks. I’m very curious to hear others’ opinions.
(signed by friend)

My reply regarding valid marriages

I suppose I’d be classed as an elder.
You may not have known that we “older” celebrants were given a book of legal interpretations from 1995. It was a book which had been valid since 1973. We also had access to GOOD advice – The public servants in charge of the downgrading of celebrancy in 2003 defied the precedents of 30 years of interpretation. Hence they made a lot of mistakes and invented lot of stuff which you may think is “correct”- 

Since the downgrading we have had four revisions –
Explanatory notes 1,
Explanatory Notes 2,
When Words are not enough. 3.
And now the latest
“Guidelines for celebrants” 4
which, the first time I opened it, I saw a serious error (checked by my lawyer friends). (Note that the Department have now nearly come back to square one i.e 1973 – 1995).
For example, the interpretation for vows for thirty years was “as long as the words of the vows conveyed to those present that the couple were taking each other in marriage”.
For example, on the business of names – when you boil it down anyone can be any name they seriously choose to be. God knows how much unnecessary pain the recent erroneous interpretations have caused people.

I wrote this article for the AFCC magazine – some really ignorant people made disparaging remarks about it – but check it out – it is important – and it is correct.
Finally, may I say that I hereby cast a pox on anyone who says I am not exact with the law or that I do not advocate it in my training courses. We are all bound by the same GENUINE rules of interpretation; we are not bound by the changing legal whims of public servants who have never been celebrants.
A lot more could be said –
etc etc
PS. Certain people in the celebrant political world, for the basest of motives, have been trying for some years, to drive a wedge between “old” and “new” celebrants -(the AFCC recently tried to get rid of Life Members!!) please don’t fall for it – we are all in this wonderful opportunity together.

First Same Sex Marriages in Oz

Australia’s First Same Sex marriages. All performed by Civil Celebrants.

One of the First Same-sex marriages in the ACT -7-12-2013 performed by Civil Celebrants. (Photo from The Age Gallery.)

One of the First Same-sex marriages in the ACT -7-12-2013 performed by Civil Celebrants. (Photo from The Age Gallery.)

Civil marriage celebrants for same-sex marriages

One of the First Same-sex marriages in the ACT -7-12-2013 performed by Civil Celebrants. (Photo from The Age Gallery.)

The marriages were nullified by the High Court the following week.
Still, History has been made.
The Age put out this wonderful gallery of photographs