I wish I could marry you

Last updated 07:00 08/03/2012

Hallelujah! The Internal Affairs Department doesn't just hate me, it also isn't a fan of Kiwi comedian Penny Ashton!

For years now I've wanted to become a marriage celebrant.

Even when I never thought I'd ever get married myself, I always dreamed of having a part in people's stories, a role in people's special day. I really, really wanted this. I still do.

I enjoy public speaking, have spoken at funerals, held presentations at corporate events in front of hundreds and like to think that through my job as a journalist I have a wide experience in dealing with people from all backgrounds.

That's why when the letter came back last year saying I had been declined as a marriage celebrant in New Zealand, I couldn't help but cry.

To be fair, I got that letter when I was having one of those "Whyyyyyyy did I get out of bed?" days so it was the straw that broke the camel's back, but the disappointment was palpable.

I went over and over my application. Two lovely, glowing personal and professional letters of support of my application, as requested, a personality-filled letter of why I wanted to be given this privilege, examples of the communities that I represented and their support for me and what I do... all for nothing.

The reasons given for the rejection? Here's the abridged response:

Thank you for your application to be appointed as an independent marriage celebrant. Your application was referred to the Registrar-General who assessed it against the criteria pursuant to section 11 of the Marriage Act 1955 (the Act).  

I advise that your application for appointment has not been supported by the Registrar-General and has therefore been declined.

As referred to above, all applications for appointment as an independent marriage celebrant are assessed against the statutory criteria stipulated in section 11 of the Act. Only those applications where the Registrar-General is satisfied the criteria have been met will result in appointment.

The Registrar-General is satisfied that the interests of the public in general are being met by current marriage celebrants. You did not make any specific reference to a particular community in your application.

It is your responsibility to satisfy the Registrar-General that your appointment is in the interests of the public generally, or a particular community. To help the Registrar-General with his decision, you must provide compelling evidence that the public in general and/or your community need or want you as a marriage celebrant.

This means you need to provide information on how it is in their interests that you be appointed, including evidence of support from the general public or from within the particular community.

 Examples of evidence are (but are not limited to):

  • Testimonials from people within the community that provide definitive information to demonstrate a want/need for your appointment as an independent marriage celebrant, which state explicit support and reasons why and how your appointment would meet their interests.
  • Independent corroboration that your proficiency of any languages you are fluent in, other than English, is sufficient to solemnise a marriage in that language.


So basically I need to be linked to the community in some way (suggestions welcome) or speak more languages, and then I might be in for a shot.

The fact that I didn't believe there was a diverse selection of celebrants among the current offerings, or that I represented an online community - a valid and large community! - apparently wasn't enough for them to be convinced that I would like to stand up for those who want to have slightly off-beat, 'weird', non-conventional weddings and maybe, just maybe, be married by someone who is under 50-years-old. (Yes, I know there are younger celebrants but they are definitely in the minority.)

I went back to DIA, and asked: "To save everyone further time, are you able to advise whether it is a case of there being too many celebrants in the area (Wellington), as some in the industry have indicated, or whether it is simply that I haven't provided references from the correct community people?"

The response: "There is no cap placed on the number of celebrants appointed, you can go and look at our website to see a list of all the celebrants in New Zealand.

If you are interested in re-applying then I suggest you look at our new form. You will see that identifying a community that you belong to and providing evidence from that community that there is need to appoint you is a significant part of the application."

So there goes my theory that there was a "cap" in certain areas - a rumour I'd heard from a few people and one that I know others have been denied on before. Odd.

Also, little known fact, celebrant licenses are only for a 12 month period. So let's be fair, if someone isn't pulling their weight, or is doing a terrible job, they can get the boot and I'd encourage DIA to be fair, and do so.

That sure would stop the horror stories I've heard of some celebrants - alcoholics who turn up drunk to ceremonies, celebrants cancelling frequently because of personal issues that haven't been addressed (and yet they constantly get their license renewed). I think it's about time the Marriage Act gets a good look at - all aspects of it, but also the part about what it means to be a celebrant.

So my question is this: Years ago I put 'Jedi' down as my religion on the census, should I re-apply saying the force is strong in our community of 53,000 of us Jedi in New Zealand and I don't feel that we're being represented by any marriage celebrants?*

How come Penny Ashton gets denied over and over again, and yet others - like one girl I know - get it with a letter from a JP and another from a sporting organisation she's a part of? Is it regionalism? 

It's an important role. It's one I would take seriously. It is something I still want to achieve. 

So now I've been told "it's your responsibility to satisfy the Registrar-General that your appointment is in the interests of the public generally". Hmm, how does one do this, do you think? How do you explain to a government department that you've got support? What's the minimum? Do they need a petition?  I'd be really interested to know more about the selection process, much like many of the commenters on the article about Penny. I don't think people should have to "lie" or "sneak" into becoming someone with such an important role. 

So what does it take to be a celebrant? What type of person should be given the honour of legally marrying two people? Who should be denied this? What are your feelings on the current Marriage Act 1955 - in terms of celebrant selection? (The Act itself shall be discussed in another post).

Who married you or who are you planning to have? Would you opt to have someone you know marry you if they could apply to do so and be granted it without having to jump through so many hoops?

*Also, if there are any Jedi celebrants out there - call me. I am on the search for someone to marry Beyonce and I at the end of the year. It's BYO lightsabers and good relations with the wookies, we have.

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Post a comment
MP   #1   09:12 am Mar 08 2012

That is so annoying that they would decline you. We would have loved to have my brother in law marry us but was just to hard to try and make it happen before the wedding. We used Brian Ross, he was great and we would highly recommend him but it would have been so much nicer to have someone that actually knew us.

maz   #2   09:54 am Mar 08 2012

I think the laws / guidelines are in place to stop people like me who only wanted the licence so I could do one wedding. Which I think is fair enough, and there's heaps of other ways people can get up and be involved in a wedding - speeches, doing a reading etc.

Tash   #3   10:11 am Mar 08 2012

Claiming that your religion is "Jedi" and having testimonals from other couples who are that religion stating that they can't find a Jedi celebrant is exactly the way to go. That is a clear example of a community whose needs are not being meet.

I don't think there is a regional cap as such, but it's easier to get a celebrant licence in a rural region, because there are probably few other celebrants in that area, and you are serving that rural community.

GG   #4   10:14 am Mar 08 2012

I would love to know what the deal is. I am struggling to become one also and I know there are couples out there that want younger celebrants - I have had them as references in my application! I just dont understand why they cannot provide a real application for so many people being turned down.

Good luck to us both! And Penny!!

eszter   #5   10:19 am Mar 08 2012

this whole thing is such a joke. If you want to be a celebrant they should let you! Dont see why they go on about "in the best interest of you community"... Worst thats gonna happen is people are not going to use you as much as you want.. thats only issue to the celebrant..why thats anything to do with the government I dont know? Clearly there is a demand for you (or anyone else applying and getting declined)..hence the recommendations.. why not just let it go thru and allow the person to succeed for themselves.

so stupid.

John   #6   10:21 am Mar 08 2012

So many questions. If you really want answers, pick up the phone and call a few celebrants. Maybe they could say why they got accepted.

Anne   #7   10:38 am Mar 08 2012

We had a retired minister marry us and he was wonderful - warm, funny and interesting. I always find it a bit sad when I go to weddings where it's obvious that the celebrant is just using a stock-standard spiel and doesn't really know the couple. I can understand why DIA is strict about licensing people - if it was easy then so many people would want their best mate to marry them. This would be a bureaucratic nightmare and, I think, undermine the act of marriage. However, for people like you and Penny who genuinely want to offer their services to help make weddings a truly special day, I think they need to think a bit harder about the wider community - not all of us belong to particular groups in the community.

Beebop   #8   10:41 am Mar 08 2012

Sorry to copy and paste from the other article, but thought I'd post it here as well =)

This is why my husband and I had two ceremonies - the legal one at the courthouse (to get the paperwork out of the way as we saw it) and then the public, spiritual one at a venue of our choice. We had a close friend (who wants to be a celebrant but has been rejected) officiate the 'celebration of our wedding' and were very careful in our wording etc that she wasn't doing anything illegal or decieving anyone into thinking she was a legal celebrant. It worked perfectly for us - we got who we wanted to be our celebrant and still had things covered legally.

Leon   #9   10:43 am Mar 08 2012

Looking at what you've written here, I think they seem to want to appoint celebrants whom a specific *group* want to have appointed. As compared to people who want *themselves* appointed for whatever their reason might be.

Maybe they get a lot of people applying for pure vanity or self glorification reasons, so they really have to slam down hard on applications not visibly attached to a currently under represented part of the community?

Sandra   #10   11:01 am Mar 08 2012

I saw this and Penny's article and wanted to offer my condolences. This is my story also! I have given up in frustration after applying 3 times in a 2 year period (in different geographies) - I even argued that they were preventing me earning a living (of sorts) as I had set my (then) rural property up as a wedding/function venue and was already a civil union celebrant. It didn't matter to them - you have to represent a sector of community (as you have identified, this is easier said than done) AND be in a geographic area with a need based on numbers. These are presented as an either/or but they seem to want both! The rules and decision making process are not transparent (I get the stock standard answer every time) - it appears to me to be a very arbitrary decision, and more clarification and oversight are needed - urgently. I , too, have had to turn people away. I think we thwarted hopefuls need to band together for a more equitable system!

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