Civil Celebrants and Clergy - what's the difference and does it matter?

by Jennifer Cram (01/12/2017)  | Categories: | Celebrant |
Clergy person with Christian Stole marrying
                    a coupleThe Marriage Act, along with Dean Smith's Bill currently making it's way through the Parliamentary process (December 2017), differentiates between Clergy and Civil Celebrants in what they can and can't do. A Tasmanian clergyperson has posted a lengthy blog post, a resignation letter address to the Federal Attorney-General, with the intention of sending it if the Marriage Act changes. So, what is the difference between civil celebrants and clergy, and, if you are planning to marry, does it matter?

The most basic difference is that Civil Celebrants can conduct personal and personalisedReview of
                  Jennifer Cram, Brisbane Marriage Celebrant marriage ceremonies anywhere in Australia, indoors and out, 24/7, in public or private spaces. Clergy, on the other hand, are restricted to conducting services, approved by their denomination, within the rules of their denomination. All ordained clergy can conduct such marriage services, but only those licensed to do so (with the Registry Office in their state) can conduct a religious marriage ceremony that is also a legal marriage. ALL legal marriages are governed by the Marriage Act, a secular Act that, to coin a phrase, allows religious entities to solemnise marriages on what is basically and outsourcing arrangement!

Clergy are permitted, as employees of their denomination, to refuse to marry couples who do not comply with the tenets of that religion. If you are divorced, wishing to marry someone of the same sex, not an adherent of the religion or a member of a particular congregation, not baptised, not confirmed, living "in sin" together, or an ordained priest may be grounds on which a clergy person is not permitted by the particular faith to marry you. Not all religions ban marriages on the grounds of all of the above, but some do.

So what is the effect of a clergy person deciding to "resign" from being licensed? Basically, for most marrying couples, nothing much, given that 76% of legal marriages in Australia last year were conducted by civil celebrants.

For adherents of that denomination who are parishioners, of course, what it means is that they cannot marry legally in church. But they can marry legally in a civil ceremony conducted by a civil marriage celebrant or at a Registry Office or Courthouse and then subsequently have a church marriage service as long as
  1. they inform the clergy person that they are already married
  2. no legal paperwork is done and no certificates issued
  3. that church service is not registered as a marriage
And PS, said clergy person's letter of resignation to the Federal Attorney-General in Canberra would have no effect. To resign as a clergy person requires formal notification to the Registrar-General in the state in which the clergy person ministers.