Civil Justice Policy and Programmes Division
3–5 National Circuit Barton ACT 2600
6th March 2018
Re: Terminology for marriages post 9th December, 2017
The recent amendment to the Marriage Act made Australia a more inclusive and less discriminatory society.
The definition of marriage in the Marriage Act has become less restrictive. Sex and Gender classifications no longer play a role in the Law.
Procedures for marriage have, however, placed more emphasis on categorising marrying parties into columns than the previous procedures.
With regard to forms, the Notice of Intended Marriage has an added field, which asks marrying parties to state their legal sex. Apparently this is for the Bureau of Statistics. This labelling seems to be contradictory to the purpose of the amendment to the Marriage Act.
A second field on the Notice of Intended Marriage, which is also on the Official Certificate of Marriage, asks how the party would like to describe themselves.
The fact sheet issued to celebrants states that "it is up to each party which descriptor they prefer", and “the descriptor ‘groom’ can be used by a male party, and 'bride' can be used by a female party.”
The fact sheet does not state that the descriptor ‘bride’ cannot be used by a male party, or vice versa, and there may indeed be some male parties to a marriage who would like to describe themselves as a bride, and some female parties to a marriage who would like to describe themselves as a groom.
There has been some discussion about this amongst celebrants, with anecdotes of different celebrants receiving opposing advice from the department about the description field. Births, Deaths and Marriages Registries also seem unsure of the interpretation of this fact sheet, and CoCA is aware of at least one case where a Births, Deaths and Marriages Registrar has so far refused to register a marriage where one female party selected the descriptor Groom. The fact sheet states that this field has been added for the benefits of Births, Deaths and Marriages Registries, so they may decide how to describe the parties in their registers and on the certificates prepared by them. Is this field really necessary?
In the spirit of the recent legislative change, there should be less focus on sex/gender in the new forms, not more. Therefore if this field is kept on the Notice of Intended Marriage, CoCA recommends that couples are free to decide their own “description” without using legal sex as an indicator.
During the ceremony, the couples must use the Section 45 vows, using the term “husband, wife, or spouse” or “words to that effect”.
The department’s fact sheet says “the term ‘husband’ can refer to a male marriage partner”. It does not say that the term ‘wife’ cannot be used to refer to a male partner, and many celebrants would prefer to allow parties their choice of terminology, without government stipulation of gender appropriate terms.
New situations may need new terminology. COCA suggests that the term “partner in marriage” is an alternative option for couples during the Section 45 vows and would recommend the Guidelines be updated to state this.
Now that the Marriage Act has recognised a more modern form of marriage, using an increased amount of gender based terminology and classifications seems to be moving backwards.
Whatever the decision of Attorney-General’s Department regarding this terminology, CoCA considers the instructions to both celebrants and BDM Registry staff need to be consistent and unambiguous.
Coalition of Celebrants Association (CoCA) Inc.
Mail: The CoCA Secretary
PO Box 3113 Robertson NSW 2577
Phone: 02 4885 2393