Coalition of Celebrant Associations

Australia’s Peak Celebrant Body

CoCA Background to Conflict of Interest & Benefit to Business

Before 2003, COI and Benefit to Business principles were strictly adhered to in line with those for the recognised religious celebrants.

In fact when the Commonwealth Marriage Celebrant Program was established in 1973, the basis was in line with the principles that applied to Ministers of Religion under Subdivision A.

That is the Attorney-General and his/her Department

  1. set a ratio of the numbers of civil celebrants per geographic region as there would not be unlimited numbers of Church Ministers ie they are proportional to community need

  2. set the fee to be charged as per the Churches (and BDMs) setting fees

  3. applied no conflict of interest and benefits to business provisions as was the case for the Recognised Religions and BDM staff (see below).

Why were the Conflict of Interest and Benefit to Business provisions in 2003 retained?

The celebrant associations during the 1997-2002 Consultations argued strongly that

  1. civil celebrancy was an emerging profession with celebrants providing a range of ceremonies such as namings, renewals, funerals, memorials etc. as alternatives to tthose traditionally provided by the churches

  2. open market principles were not easily applied to services of a once- or twice in a lifetime event eg an over-supply of marriage celebrants would lead to price wars and possible lowering of standards

  3. removing a per head of population service provision would result in a massive increase in the numbers of civil marriage celebrants for service delivery to a 'marriage market' that had been stable for many years (and has continued to be so).

    ie an increase in a huge number of marriage celebrants would not resulted in huge numbers of marriages to match.

  4. independent marriage celebrants access to celebrant work would be very limited as big hotel chains and resorts would be able to pay for the training and employ marriage celebrants in the same way the Funeral Industry has limited access to funeral celebrant work, if Conflict of Interest and Benefit to Business provisions were not retained.

    Also that such for-profit companies have an economical interest in tailoring services to match their profit margins rather than necessarily be providing the best ceremonial services possible, if Conflict of Interest and Benefit to Business provisions were not retained.

    Other wedding services providers would also be tempted to put economic gain from related services before the ceremonial needs of the couple. eg florists, dress shops, wedding planners, photographers, hair & make-up, catering companies, hire services (eg. chairs, aisle runners, decorations, archways), and car hire etc. 

    Migration agents were also identified as marriage related services

  5. Access to sufficient work is important to professional civil celebrants offering a range of ceremonies to maintain and improve their ceremonial skills.

    A huge over-supply of marriage celebrants would mean professional civil celebrants not being able to maintain a viable practice where the marriage work was a stable core component to their income. 

    So the celebrancy profession was more likely to have a large attrition range, and thus a revolving door of less experienced marriage celebrants available to the public as long term vai part-time or full-time celebrancy practices would not be able to be sustained.

More details can be found in the 2002 Explanatory Memorandum for the changes to the Marriage Act 1961. 

Further reading: CoCA Principles to consider with COI and Benefit to business

Marriage Act References:

Recognised Religious Marriage Celebrants Subdivision A

30 Registrar to register applicant

(1) Subject to this Subdivision, the Registrar for a State or Territory shall, on application in writing by a person ordinarily resident in that State or Territory who is entitled to registration under this Subdivision, register that person in the register kept by that Registrar.

(2) The particulars set out in an application for registration under this Subdivision shall be verified by the applicant by statutory declaration.

31 Applicant may be refused registration in certain circumstances

(1) A Registrar to whom an application for registration under this Subdivision is made may refuse to register the applicant if, in the opinion of the Registrar:

(a) there are already registered under this Subdivision sufficient ministers of religion of the denomination to which the applicant belongs to meet the needs of the denomination in the locality in which the applicant resides;

(b) the applicant is not a fit and proper person to solemnise marriages; or

(c) the applicant is unlikely to devote a substantial part of his or her time to the performance of functions generally performed by a minister of religion.

33 Removal from register

(1) Subject to this section, a Registrar shall remove the name of a person from the register kept by that Registrar if he or she is satisfied that:

(a) that person has requested that his or her name be so removed;

(b) that person has died;

(c) the denomination by which that person was nominated for registration, or in respect of which that person is registered, no longer desires that that person be registered under this Subdivision or has ceased to be a recognised denomination;

(d) that person:

(i) has been guilty of such contraventions of this Act or the regulations as to show him or her not to be a fit and proper person to be registered under this Subdivision;

(ii) has been making a business of solemnising marriages for the purpose of profit or gain; or
(iii) is not a fit and proper person to solemnise marriages; or

(e) that person is, for any other reason, not entitled to registration under this Subdivision.  

Commonwealth Authorised Religious & Civil Marriage Celebrants Subdivision C

39C Entitlement to be registered as a marriage celebrant

(1) A person is only entitled to be registered as a marriage celebrant if the person is an individual and the Registrar of Marriage Celebrants is satisfied that the person:

(a) is aged 18 years or over; and

(b) has all the qualifications, and/or skills, determined in writing to be necessary by the Registrar in accordance with regulations made for the purposes of this paragraph; and

(c) is a fit and proper person to be a marriage celebrant.

(2) In determining whether the Registrar is satisfied that the person is a fit and proper person to be a marriage celebrant, the Registrar must take into account:

(a) whether the person has sufficient knowledge of the law relating to the solemnisation of marriages by marriage celebrants; and

(b) whether the person is committed to advising couples of the availability of relationship support services; and

(c) whether the person is of good standing in the community;


(d) whether the person has been convicted of an offence, punishable by imprisonment for one year or longer, against a law of the Commonwealth, a State or Territory; and

(e) whether the person has an aactual or potential conflict of interest between his or her practice, or proposed practice, as a marriage celebrant and his or her business interests or other interests; and

(f) whether the person’s registration as a marriage celebrant would be likely to result in the person gaining a benefit in respect of another business that the person owns, controls or carries out; and

(g) whether the person will fulfil the obligations under section 39G; and

(h) any other matter the Registrar considers relevant to whether the person is a fit and proper person to be a marriage celebrant.

(3) Nothing in this section affects the operation of Part VIIC of the Crimes Act 1914 (which includes provisions that, in certain circumstances, relieve persons from the requirement to disclose spent convictions and require persons aware of such convictions to disregard them).
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