As mentioned in previous posts, the Bill containing amendments to the Marriage Act was referred to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for review before being passed. The Celebrant Institute was pleased to make a submission to this Inquiry.

The Senate Inquiry released their report on 1 February 2024, right on time, and they are supportive of the passing of the Bill with no changes to the suggested amendments to the Marriage Act:

Recommendation 2

2.75 The committee recommends that, subject to the passage of the Bill, the Attorney-General’s Department amend the Guidelines on the Marriage Act 1961 for authorised celebrants to reflect the requirements for a celebrant to hold a separate meeting with each party to the marriage before it is solemnised. The amendments should provide information as to how the meetings might operate in practice and how consent can be determined.

Recommendation 3

2.80 The committee recommends the Bill be passed.

There’s a lot of info in the report that isn’t relevant to the Marriage Act amendments (because the Bill is an omnibus bill making changes to several pieces of legislation), but I was really pleased to see discussion of the issues I had raised concerns about. They didn’t end up agreeing with me, which is totally fine, but I was pretty chuffed that we were specifically mentioned and our arguments acknowledged:

2.71 In relation to the proposed amendments to the Marriage Act, the committee appreciates the intent of the Bill to ensure that the operation of the Marriage Act is efficient and operates in a manner that is fit for purpose for both marriage celebrants and parties to a marriage.

2.72 The committee commends the attention being paid to the issue of free and informed consent, especially given that forced marriages are still likely to occur in Australia. However, the committee is concerned that in seeking to enhance the accessibility of marriage through the remote witnessing of the NOIM, the Bill may simultaneously create an additional barrier not in line with the spirit of this reform. The requirement for a celebrant to meet separately with both parties to the marriage prior to its solemnisation could place an additional burden on marriage celebrants that may not achieve the intended purpose of confirming consent.

2.73 The committee in particular recognises the arguments made by the Celebrant Institute, outlining the practical difficulties in facilitating such meetings and the lack of guidance provided on how they should be approached in order to ensure free and informed consent to marry. 

2.74 The committee therefore sees benefit in the AGD updating the Marriage Act Guidelines for authorised celebrants, to clarify how proposed section 42B of the Marriage Act will operate in practice and to ensure celebrants are properly supported in their meetings with each party to a marriage, and in determining consent.

So that’s that. There is a dissenting report included that suggests the Bill be split so that a rather contentious change to the Native Title Respondents Scheme can be dealt with separately, but that’s not the majority view of the Committee. Now we wait again and see what the Senate decides to do with the report and the Bill as a whole.