Over sixty years ago the Australian people were gifted one of the most progressive and liberating pieces of marriage legislation the world had seen. Anyone could marry, regardless of skin colour, place of birth, legal status, as long as you were 18 or over, not already married, not directly related, and could give one month’s notice – the law at the time assumed only one of you were a boy and the other was a girl. You had to say a handful of words in front of a celebrant – a regular member of the public deemed fit and proper to conduct marriage ceremonies, or a religious minister – and you were married.
Unlike other jurisdictions around the world where the laws and regulations changed from county to county, or even if they were federalised you needed to meet certain standards.
Even in Australia before 1961 different states had racist, sexist, and bigoted laws prohibiting marriage without permission for different members of Australian society.
But it’s been sixty years.
Apart from when the Howard government clarified that people of the same gender couldn’t marry in 2004, in 2013 the Australian Capital Territory same-sex marriage legislation was fought in court and solidified that marriage was not an issue for the states (or territories) and it also wasn’t a constitutional thing, and in 2017 when marriage equality came to be, the Marriage Act of 1961 hasn’t changed a whole lot. Of course there’s the 2002 proper recognition of celebrants, but the marriage legislation isn’t about us, it’s about people wanting to marry inside the boundaries of the greatest nation on earth, the great land down under, Australia.
So what do we think should change?
- the length of the notice period (personally, I like three days like New Zealand)
- simplification of the paperwork required (what is back of a PDF?)
- modernisation of the definition of prohibited relationships, taking into account what we know today about procreation with relatives (you know you can marry your dad’s twin brother right?)
- civil vows to meet the standard of religious vows
- handing the Form 15 to the couple after the ceremony
- remote witnessing of the notice of intended marriage (as is currently allowed due to special COVID-19 laws)
- modernising of the signing of paperwork (you can buy a house mortgage with a Docusign)
The act isn’t bad, it’s just a bit crusty and a bit dusty, in need of some attention and love.
In a world facing significant change, from artificial intelligence to global boundaries shifting and changing, and relationships today being different from the sixties, how can we modernise the Marriage Act to prepare for the future, not react to it?
What else should be on the list? Get into the comments below and post, what should be updated, modernised, and changed in Australia’s marriage law to set it on a good path for generations to come.
We’ll take your comments, and those of the other celebrant associations and networks and put a submission together that we can all send to our local members of parliament with a unified voice.
We’ve created a shareable website for all celebrants to use as a resource and to share around the wedding industry. Please visit and share: www.marriageact.plus.