Lots of the questions celebrants ask me relate to how far they can push the legislative requirements or ethics of our role, e.g. how closely do we have to follow the Guidelines, what’s the furthest out from a wedding the DONLIM can be signed, are surprise weddings really forbidden? I have one simple test you can apply to any situation, and if you’ve ever been to one of my OPD classes you’ll probably have heard me talk about this before.

If you had to go to court to testify about the validity of a marriage, could you, under oath, stand by every decision you made? And preferably, could you back up every decision with reference to the Marriage Act, Marriage Regulations, Guidelines on the Marriage Act, and other relevant legislation?

I often teach this when I’m talking about the distinction between things we must do (those contained in the Act and Regulations) and things we should do (those contained only in the Guidelines). Although what’s in the Guidelines is best practice only and not things we must do, I believe the vast majority of celebrants would be in a much better position when giving legal evidence if they could say they had followed the Guidelines. If they hadn’t followed the Guidelines, they’d want to be able to back up their interpretation of the legislation and stand by their reasoning.

Yes, there are still things in the Guidelines that are not perfect, and there are still things in the Guidelines that do not provide any kind of definitive answer (e.g. how far out can the DONLIM be signed), but I believe if you apply the above test to any decision you make, you’ll be in a pretty good place.

(I learnt about this when I worked for the public service; for every expenditure we made, the test was “if this ends up on the front page of The Australian tomorrow, could we justify it?”)

It’s a pretty simple test to keep in mind at all times.