Towards the end of each year registered marriage celebrants get a letter from the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, inviting them to apply to continue in the role.
Appointments are made the following March and in recent years the letters informing us we’ve been reappointed have included warnings about sharing duties with non-registered celebrants.
Anyone can officiate at a funeral, but if a couple wish to be legally married (or civilly unioned) they need a registered celebrant to officiate. The letter from the Registrar says that means more than just being there and signing the paper work while someone else does takes the service.
Now a court case in Christchurch has raised a question over exactly what the Marriage Act requires:
The wording of the Marriage Act will be put to the test in an unusual trial that started today in Christchurch District Court, where a marriage celebrant and his trainee deny performing an unlawful wedding.
Defence counsel James Rapley told the court legal discussion would be needed later about the Act’s requirement for a marriage to be “solemnised in the presence” of a marriage celebrant.
Being a celebrant used to be regarded as a community service but many now treat it as a career and that’s mostly why the problem over non-registered celebrants has arisen.
I do only a handful of services a year and don’t charge but have no problem with others who do. Agreeing to officiate usually requires making a commitment to a date months in advance and good celebrants put a lot of time and effort into their preparation. Although a civil service doesn’t take long, a celebrant has to arrive well before it starts and can easily tie up a couple of hours or more on the day. There’s nothing wrong with asking to be paid for all that.
However, not everyone who wants to be a celebrant is able to. The number of celebrants is restricted and not everyone who applies to be registered is accepted. Some people have set up business anyway, done the preparation, taken the service and had a registered celebrant on hand to do the paper work.
The registrar has been telling us that’s not acceptable. I’ve never been asked to share officiating duties with anyone else but it was discussed at a celebrants’ conference and wasn’t unusual in cities.
If the case before the court confirms that “in the presence of” means more than just being there and signing the register a whole lot of people who thought they were married may find they’re not.
Whatever the outcome of the case it’s also an opportunity to discuss whether there should be a change so that anyone who meets the requirements to be a celebrant ought to be able to be one.
There are good reasons for needing to safeguard the quality of celebrants but I’m not convinced there’s any need to restrict the quantity.