I wish I could marry you

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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