What your celebrant says in your wedding - law and custom

by Jennifer Cram - Brisbane Marriage Celebrant ©
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Jennifer Cram Brisbane Marriage Celebrant
                      holding the Marriage Register with the Ausgtralian
                      Coat of Arms embossed in gold visibleWhat your celebrant must say in your wedding ceremony is laid down in the Marriage Act. And it is far less than most people think!

In fact there is only ONE thing that your celebrant must say.

The Monitum


The Marriage Act doesn't call it that, in fact it doesn't name it at all, it just makes it clear that the celebrant must say the following words (Monitum means warning, by the way) before you make your vows.
I am duly authorised by law to solemnise marriages according to law.
Before you are joined together in marriage in my presence and in the presence of these witnesses, I am to remind you of the solemn and binding nature of the relationship into which you are now about to enter.
Marriage, according to law in Australia, is the union of two people, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.
The first two sentences are a warning. The last one the legal definition of marriage in Australia.

I don't just launch into the above. I always introduce it by explaining that, in order for your marriage to be legal, I must declare that ... and I insert my name after the first I. Not a fan of starting the ceremony with My Name Is... but we are legally required to identify ourselves. Something I do twice. Once informally when I'm doing the housekeeping announcements before the ceremony starts, and as part of the Monitum.

What about the vows?


Do you have to repeat the legal vows after your celebrant? No. Nope. Not at all.Silver gray
                      and vows cards tied with pink ribbon

In fact, as long as at some point before the vows your celebrant introduces themselves as the celebrant, job done. So you can read your vows, including the legal words, or have someone else lead you through them. Or more than one someones! At a recent wedding, on my suggestion, we had the couple's teenage godsons do that. The boys were just a tad too young to be the witnesses. It created a magic moment. And they did it perfectly. Holding the really fancy vows folders I had made for the couple.

Here's the shocking secret ...


Although it is customary for the celebrant to do almost all the speaking of the ceremony, that is tradition, a holdover from when the celebrant was always a member of the clergy and the "authority" marrying them in the eyes of the church.

As a civil celebrant, I am what I like to think of as the operational arm of the Marriage Act. But, technically, because it is the words you each say to the other, in front of witnesses, that create your marriage

I ask everyone here to witness that I [Full Name] take you [Full Name] to be my lawful wedded [your choice of: Husband/Wife/Spouse/Partner-in-Marriage]

My job is to make sure the paperwork is done, make sure you say the proper words, and there are two witnesses present. And to submit everything to Births, Deaths, and Marriages to register you marriage.
As long as I do all of the above, and I say the Monitum
I don't have to say another word

What part can other people play in your wedding?


Anyone you choose can speak the various parts of your wedding ceremony
  • Welcome everyone
  • Do a reading
  • Tell your relationship/love story
  • Ask the "I do" question
  • Lead you through your vows (Repeat after me)

What about the Pronouncement


Unlike many other countries (and religious ceremonies) the pronouncement in a civil marriage ceremony Australia doesn't seal the deal. You are legally married once you say your vows. So the pronouncement is tradition only. It is an acknowledgement that you are married, rather than the words the created the legal marriage.

So no-one in Australia has any power vested in them by the government to create your marriage! Which means that whether pronounced married, or not, you are legally married.

So, at the end of a legal marriage ceremony I often ask the guests to join with me in pronouncing the couple married.

Or, you can declare yourselves married. Or have someone else do it.  In that case I always suggest that the actual words the person uses are "I acknowledge and declare that ...."

Doing it all yourself

Of course you can. You can welcome everyone. Personally, I love it when the marrying couple welcomes everyone themselves and then they introduce me.

You can tell your own love story. You can ask one another the I Do questions. You can read your legal vows, recite them from memory, or repeat them after one another (that last one might seem a bit creepy to the guests, so, though legal, you might want to skip that option). For your personal promises there are no rules.

Does this mean less work for your celebrant?

No it doesn't! For the simple reason that I still do all the paperwork, collect information from you, and write the ceremony. And then, on top of that there is
  • Convincing everyone involved that it is perfectly legal - which often means lengthy discussions
  • Incorporating the perspectives of potentially numerous people
  • Coaching all the people involved

Thanks for reading!

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                        Jennifer Cram
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