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:-
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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