Civil Celebrant Ceremonies Enrich the Culture and preserve genuine values


Dear Attorney General
I have just finished watching the Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne Dawn Anzac services on television.
The woman surgeon who spoke at the Canberra Dawn Service and the other woman surgeon who spoke at the Melbourne Dawn Service movingly articulated the ideals in which they believed – such a contrast to Australian life as we currently observe it.

These Dawn Anzac ceremonies were top illustrations of how ceremonies are meant to preserve our values. The civil celebrant program for which you have responsibility was not established by your predecessors for occasional use, but was instigated to permeate Australian life on all its occasions to express, inter alia, the values we acknowledge as good. Every family , every community is enriched and stabilised by ceremonies and rituals great and small. This need in our culture has become more acute as church attendances have declined dramatically. In short, Mr Porter, we civil celebrants were established to build and enhance a culture, wherein, at ever level of society, our best ideals were expressed, transmitted and reinforced.

Unfortunately, your predecessors have let us and the country down badly. September 1st 2003 was a sad day for celebrants. On that day our whole purpose was changed from creating the best ceremonies for the Australian public to a preoccupation with a mass of legal trivia.

In brief, the market was super-flooded with so many badly educated celebrants that original ideals were lost, understanding of the role became almost non-existent, and pre-occupation with ceremonies for the whole spectrum of human life was replaced with celebrant organisations seeking members, celebrant “trainers” without ethics, and individuals grovelling to a public servant, who over-asserted her authority, and who demanded strict adherence to her destructive ideas.
It is important to run a good country – good governance as we call it. It is important to develop a culture which supports decency, values, and principles. Civil ceremonies are one of the main means we have to influence society for the better.

Until that tragic day in 2003, Australia led the western world on civil ceremonies. Civil celebrants were abolished on this day and jumbled up with an unwilling clergy — a situation in law you have the power to rectify.

Lest this letter get too long to read, and just incase you are interested in this program, I have two recommendations for starters.

Recommendations for starters–

1. That in the next meeting of your representatives with celebrants the topic of excessive numbers should not be passed over until action is planned to begin solving the problem. My recommendation is a full or part moratorium on appointments – and a waiting list. As a partial moratorium, say, one appointment for every four who leave the list. (This has been done before.)

2. Then once something concrete has been decided about no.1 above – the meeting should discuss purpose. Similarly the meeting should not be allowed to continue until they have progressed towards expanding and encouraging the range and quality of the ceremonies which our society so badly needs.

3. My impression of your current staff is that they are decent people without the malice we have experienced in the past. But you as Attorney- General should not tolerate in the marriage celebrant section staff any public servant who does not understand and support the purpose of the civil celebrant program and who sincerely wishes, according to the highest ideals of the public service, to progress it.

Mr Porter, there is nothing better you could be doing for Australia, for its lasting good, than using your influence to enrich the culture of this country. The civil celebrant program began this way, and continued this way for a long time. I defy you to name anything in your portfolio of responsibilities, which is more important than the spiritual life of the nation itself.
With sincere good wishes for success in your portfolio. Yours sincerely

Dally Messenger III STB, LCP, BEd, DipLib, ALAA

Currently: Principal of the International College of Celebrancy
Sometime Lecturer – Victoria University – Graduate Diploma in Arts (Celebrancy) Sometime Lecturer – Monash University – Graduate Diploma in Arts (Celebrancy) Foundation President and Administrator of the Australian Federation of Civil Celebrants (1994-1999).
Life Member – Celebrants and Celebrations Network
Sometime Life Member of the Australian Federation of Civil Celebrants (1996).
(Until they abolished Life Members !!)
Foundation President of the Australian Association of Funeral Celebrants
Foundation Secretary of the Association of Civil Marriage Celebrants of
Australia (1975-1980).
Author, Ceremonies and Celebrations (4 editions) – a handbook for celebrants.
Author, Murphy’s Law and the Pursuit of Happiness: A History of the Civil Celebrant Movement

PS. In case I am maligned. I consider legalities are important, and I have always advocated exactness in the recording of marriages, and practised it with exactness in my own celebrancy. But it is not the main game – ceremonies are!

Dally Messenger

This is the reply I received via our representative at the Meeting with the Attorney General’s representatives

As Yvonne Werner will testify, I raised your recent letter to the AG with the MCLS staff at the associations meeting here in Canberra yesterday. They said they had read it. Nonetheless I raised the point of oversupply & moratorium in front of all. They simply said that the law says that if a qualified fit & proper person applies the Registrar has to appoint. ‘A moratorium or a delay (4 to 1) in appointments will not happen.’  I tried. Hope you are well. Charles 😎👍🏼

My Note: In the past The Marriage Act and the Regulations, especially those which oppressed celebrants, were changed in the blink of an eye.

Civil Celebrant or Commonwealth Registered Celebrant?

Section 39 of The Marriage Act in Australia should be changed back so as to clearly distinguish clergy from Civil Celebrants. The destructive change in 2003 should be seen for what it is – an attempt to destroy the civil celebrant program and a wonderful uniquely Australian social innovation.

Students of the International College met at Circular Quay in Sydney

Students of the International College met at Circular Quay in Sydney

How very distressing to see these wounds opened up. But maybe opening this wound up it can be healed!

From the beginning we were “civil marriage celebrants” or “civil celebrants”. In 1977. When the dispute about what we should do emerged, the founding Attorney-General, Lionel Murphy, weighed in to publicly state (he was then a Judge of the High Court) that civil celebrants were to officiate at all the ceremonies the non-church world needed, in those days marriages, funeral and namings. We were to be seen as enriching the culture in every way we can.

In perhaps the most catastrophic day in the history of Civil Celebrancy, Sept 1 2003, a group of ignorant and/or malicious public servants in the Attorney-General’s Department ravaged the Civil Celebrant program by jumbling up civil celebrants with the fringe clergy. This was  a surprise change never envisaged, a change the clergy did not want, and we civil celebrants did not want.

We were stripped of our proud title of “Civil Celebrants” and cast into the dishonest and limited world of legal trivia and fear administration, which ignored 30 years of cultural and legal precedent. This recalcitrant act partly destroyed the vision of Lionel Murphy.

Since this catastrophic day I have been sick in the stomach regarding what passes for training in celebrancy.  We now have the ignorant setting syllabi for the new and untrained.

With due modesty may I ask members of this forum to read my book “Murphy’s Law and the Pursuit of Happiness: a History of the Civil Celebrant Movement”. It is well reviewed as “readable”. The history of celebrancy should be essential in every course of training. You can get the book from Yvonne on 1300 446 786. You can get it as an ebook on iBooks or at Amazon/Kindle at

If participants have some accurate information, we can then have the facts which will lead to discussions, which will lead to progress in the form of information — and inspiration to be better celebrants.

Finally, may I ask all celebrants to campaign strongly with the Attorney-General to restore our proud title of “Civil Celebrants” and restore our original purpose of being top class ceremony providers, and to rescue us from the morass of legal trivia which now passes for celebrancy.

Dally Messenger