UPDATE RE PENS 2/4/2020: I wrote the initial post that included wiping my signing pen with antibacterial wipes between each signer based on the rule I learned many moons ago that when signing a legal document, all signers needed to use the same pen, as different pens may suggest the signers signed at different times or in different places. After much consideration I’m changing my stance on this; I’ve decided to buy a big box of cheap black pens from Officeworks and have all signers use their own pen to minimise the spread of germs. I have disposable gloves (that were already in my cupboard) that I will insist on everyone wearing. Plus I’ll use all the hand sanitiser and wipe down my folder as mentioned. I’ve changed the post below to reflect my change in process.

I’m fielding a lot of questions about how to actually manage marriage ceremonies in a practical sense, with regards to the 1.5m distance advice and 4 square metres per person rules currently in place. So I want to let you know how I personally am managing these things.

Please note that this is not advice. This is the way I’ve figured out that I am comfortable working, and you may or may not feel comfortable with the same measures in place. It is up to every individual celebrant to decide how they want to work in the current climate.

A reminder that this is the advice we received from the Marriage Law and Celebrant Section in their email to all celebrants on Wedneday 25 March at 5pm:

In the measures announced by the Prime Minister on 24 March 2020, which will take effect from 11.59 Wednesday 25 March, the solemnisation of a marriage is to occur with a maximum attendance of no more than five people, being the two parties, the authorised marriage celebrant, and the two witnesses. Social distancing of 1 person per 4 square metres is to be enforced. This applies to marriages both indoors and outdoors.

I am only taking on strict Legals Only weddings at this point:

  • no one present other than the couple, their two witnesses and me; for me, that includes nobody watching from balconies or windows or over the fence, and no photographers with long lenses present, even if they’re off in the distance.
  • strictly only the bare minimum legal ceremonies; no personalisation, no story, no readings, no music, no “nice to have” bits of a traditional wedding ceremony. I introduce myself, I say the Monitum, the couple says their legal vows, we all sign, and we’re done.
  • only available at the couple’s home (preferably in an outdoor space if they have one) or in a park close to their home; no travelling to “nice outlooks” or “pretty scenery”.

At the actual ceremony I am ensuring the 4 square metres per person rule is in place. Regarding the 1.5 metres of space between people:

  • the couple are likely already living together, or will be after the wedding, so there’s no need for them to stay 1.5 metres away from each other
  • their witnesses may also be living in the couple’s home; if this is the case there’s no need for them to stay 1.5 metres away from each other
  • the witnesses may share a home with each other (e.g. if they are one party’s parents); if this is the case there’s no need for them to stay 1.5 metres away from each other
  • I personally will stand 1.5 metres from everyone concerned while I am delivering the ceremony, but not during the signing, because to me that’s simply not practical. Given it is a legal requirement that the couple, witnesses and celebrant sign these documents immediately after solemnisation of the marriage, we need to find a way to do this.

Here’s a rundown of what I’m actually doing from the moment I arrive at one of these ceremonies to the moment I leave:

  • I arrive and greet everyone while staying 1.5 metres from all involved; no handshakes or even elbow taps in greeting.
  • Before I have the DONLIM signed (because I’m generally doing this immediately before the ceremony as there has not been a rehearsal or any other face to face meeting prior to the marriage), I give both parties gloves to wear and a separate pen each.
  • I show them the DONLIM (which I’ve already emailed to them for them to review the details) from a distance, explain what it says once more (“this document says there’s no legal reason you can’t get married: you’re not married to someone else, you’re not siblings and you’re over 18. Are you happy to sign that?”), and then move closer to them to point where they are each to sign. I continue to hold the folder containing the document while they sign it. Each person gets their own pen for signing.
  • I move to an appropriate distance away, ensure the others are standing an appropriate distance from each other while remembering those who live together do not need to be separated, and begin the ceremony.
  • I introduce myself and recite the Monitum, then ask each of the parties to the marriage to repeat their legal vows after me. No microphones are necessary because even though we are spaced appropriately, there are only five people present so everyone can hear.
  • If the couple wants to exchange rings, they are welcome to do so; I do not touch the rings or the ring box, they are responsible for managing that entire process, and there are no words that go with the exchange.
  • I pronounce them married, and if they want to, the couple kisses.
  • I again collect my signing folder and pen, and hand gloves and separate pens to the witnesses (the couple already has their gloves and pens). I hold the folder and point where each person is to sign on all three marriage certificates (I have found that even using coloured sticky notes doesn’t necessarily have people signing in the correct places; I have found I need to actually put my finger on the line they are to sign on). Each person can keep their own pen.
  • After all the signing is done, I put their Form 15 in an envelope and hand it to the couple, then I leave: no selfie, no photo, no handshake or elbow tap.
  • When I get in the car I dispose of my gloves and clean my hands with hand sanitiser, and wipe down my signing folder with an alcohol wipe before putting it in my bag.

The entire process takes a maximum of 8 minutes and I’m done. I have ensured physical distancing where possible, and I have minimised the time I am in the presence of others (who may be infected and not yet know it) to less than 15 minutes (which is the amount of face-to-face time currently being quoted as “close contact”).

Current advice is that celebrants could be fined (anywhere from $1000 to $10,000, depending on which state you’re in and what you read) for not complying with the maximum of 5 people and 4 square metres per person rules. If photos appear that have all five people in them, there was clearly a photographer present, even if they were in the distance, and I’m not prepared to risk that. If there is an outbreak that is traced to the marriage ceremony, and there are people present through windows or over fences or on balconies, who then gather with the married couple and are exposed, my name is on the paperwork that is submitted to the government, and I’m not prepared to risk it.

Obviously what the couple and their witnesses do after we leave is not our concern nor our responsibility. The way I see it, we become responsible or accountable when we knowingly allow more people to gather, even at a distance. We must put these things in writing to our couples; send them an email or a text message before the wedding reminding them that only they and their witnesses may be present, so that in the event that you turn up and there’s more people present, or more people gather after you have left, you have proof that you gave them the correct advice. We are also well within our rights to refuse to conduct a ceremony with more people present than are allowed; I know it’s hard, but be strong and stand up for yourselves if you are confronted with people doing the wrong thing.

These are difficult times and we are dealing with difficult rules. Couples are doing everything they can to get around the rules, but I reiterate: our name is on the paperwork that gets lodged with the government, and we have to be vigilant so we don’t end up in serious trouble.

Take care everyone, of yourselves and each other.