I can't marry you, seriously
Will you marry me?
That's a question Penny Ashton often gets asked but one she's never been able to answer with a 'yes'.
The comedian has been trying to become a marriage celebrant for 12 years but keeps getting told by the Internal Affairs Department that she doesn't fit the criteria.
''When I got the last rejection letter in October I just lost it, I was really upset,'' Ashton says.
''I just don't understand why if someone really wants me to marry them, I can't do it - there's a lot of red tape around what's meant to be the happiest day of your life.''
The Sandringham resident is a romantic at heart and a believer in marriage and thinks she could offer a unique service to couples wanting a young and flexible celebrant.
''If they want me to marry them dressed as Marilyn Monroe, I'd do it,'' she says.
Ashton is giving the application another go this month but six refusals have left her wondering what part of the 1955 Marriage Act criteria she doesn't satisfy.
The 37-year-old says she's warm and gregarious, has good character, is already a civil union celebrant and can conscientiously perform the duties.
Fellow comedian Ewen Gilmour has been a marriage celebrant for several years.
Ashton feels she is acting in the interests of a particular community, but the Internal Affairs department says that's still not good enough.
''If an application is declined it is because the registrar-general is not satisfied that the application meets the statutory criteria for appointment,'' spokeswoman Jo Watt says.
Despite licence criteria including assessing candidates based on the needs of particular groups, the department doesn't monitor this.
''If a community or applicant identifies a need it is up to them to prove both that the need exists and that the applicant meets that need,'' Watt says.
It's been a frustrating process for Ashton who's been told she needs to get more people who she doesn't know to vouch for her as someone they'd want to marry them.
But many couples who have previously asked her to marry them had to give up and find other celebrants after she was rejected.
Ashton was told in a later application that because those couples were eventually married her services weren't needed.
Stand-up comedian and Wedding Guide manager Aaron Beard believes Internal Affairs has ''pigeon-holed her''.
He and his wife Michelle were married two years ago and tried everything to help Ashton get her licence so she could be their celebrant.
But after sending in numerous support letters for her they had to settle for a ''stock standard'' celebrant and a watered-down version of their dream day.
''We didn't go overboard with any aspect of our wedding but we just wanted the right things and at the end of the day, the celebrant was what was missing.''
Beard started the Wedding Guide after his frustrating experience planning for his big day and believes there's a niche for Ashton.
The only other celebrants he can think of that offer a performance or poetry aspect to their routine are comedian Gilmour and Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt.
Ashton is determined to get her licence next time round. She is looking for couples who would like a young and vibrant celebrant to marry them and would love any interested pairs to get in touch.
Interested couples can contact Ashton via email.