The profession of marriage celebrancy can be either a full-time career path, or a part-time vocation.

Without exception, celebrants agree that it is an exciting profession that can create some challenges, but mostly, provides the celebrant with the opportunity to be a part of the bride and groom’s most special day.

The Profession of Marriage Celebrancy

Definition of Marriage

“Marriage, according to law in Australia is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.” Section 46(1) of the Marriage Act 1961.

The institution of marriage

Marriage is a social institution – normally with legal sanction – that unites a man and a woman. It forms the basis for the nuclear family comprising a man, a woman and one or more children.

It is thought that the long period which children are dependant, is the major reason behind the almost universal adoption of some form of marriage by societies.

Upholding the institution of Marriage

The Marriage Act 1961 (The Act) Schedule 1A, Regulation 37L – Code of Practice for marriage celebrants states:

“a marriage celebrant must recognise the social, cultural and legal significance of marriage and the marriage ceremony in the Australian community, and the importance of strong and respectful relationships.”

This is supported in section 43 of the Family Law Act 1975 (Australia) as the basis of how marriage and the family are regarded in our country:

• the need to preserve and protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life;

• the need to give the widest possible protection and assistance to the family as the natural and fundamental group of society, particularly while it is responsible for the care and education of dependant children;

• the need to protect the rights of children and to promote their welfare;

• the need to ensure safety from family violence; and

• the means available for assisting parties to a marriage to consider reconciliation or the improvement of their relationship to each other and to their children.

Recognition of the Significance of Marriage

Celebrants under schedule 1A (3) Code of Practice for marriage celebrants Regulation 37L must recognise the social, cultural and legal significance of marriage and the marriage ceremony in the Australian community, and the importance of strong and respectful family relationships.

History of the Marriage Celebrant Program

To enable you to understand the role of the marriage celebrant, it is appropriate that you are aware of the history of the profession of marriage celebrancy.

Passed in 1961, the Marriage Act was the first unified law in the Commonwealth dealing with the institute of marriage. The Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department is responsible for the administration of the Commonwealth Marriage Act 1961.

In 1973, Senator Lionel Murphy initiated the Marriage Celebrant’s Program to provide couples who did not want a religious ceremony, with a meaningful alternative to a Registry Office.

It provided wider freedom to marrying couples – much admired by many countries – and promotes the development of multiculturalism in Australia. This initial Marriage Celebrant Program allowed the Registrar to appoint suitable qualified people to perform marriages. They were termed Civil Celebrants, in order to differentiate them from religious celebrants.

In 1996, the government undertook a review of the Marriage Celebrant’s Program with the participation of celebrants, organisations and couples. Several areas were identified as requiring reform.

The major catalyst for the reforms was to ensure that marrying couples had access to thoroughly trained marriage celebrants. The tenet of the reforms is to raise the professional standards of celebrants and to use their unique position in the community to encourage clients to attend pre-marriage and relationship education services.

Instead of simply being appointed as “fit and proper persons”, as in the past, aspiring marriage celebrants must now undertake an approved, competency-based training course or have been independently assessed against these competencies in order to be eligible for authorisation. Also, authorised celebrants are required to complete regular professional training and are subject to a Code of Practice. The Registrar may take disciplinary action under Section 39 1 of the Marriage Act 1961 if the Registrar is not satisfied that the celebrant has complied with obligations as set out in section 39G of The Marriage Act 1961.

These changes commenced on September 1, 2003 and are contained in the Marriage Act 1961.

Requirements to be a Marriage Celebrant

Under the new legislation (Marriage Act 1961 with amendment), aspiring celebrants are required to have completed the minimum approved course (CHCMCEL401A Plan, Conduct and Review a Marriage Ceremony) or to have been independently assessed against these competencies in order to be eligible to apply for authorisation.


A new system for the authorisation of marriage celebrants became effective September 1 2003. Marriage celebrants will be appointed by a Registrar of Marriage Celebrants within the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department.


To be eligible for appointment as a marriage celebrant, applicants must have at least one of the qualifications or skills specified in regulation 37G of the Marriage Regulations.

These are:

• Certificate (however described) awarded by a university, showing completion of a course conducted by the university that includes the marriage celebrancy unit or

• A Certificate 1V in Marriage Celebrancy awarded by a registered training organisation or

• A Statement of Attainment in the marriage celebrancy unit awarded by a registered training organisation or

• A written assignment given by a qualified assessor, showing attainment of competency in the marriage celebrancy unit.

• Aspiring celebrants must complete the course of training or be assessed against the core competencies of the mandatory unit, “Plan, Conduct and Review a Marriage Ceremony” CHCMCEL401A. When this qualification criterion has been met, a person may apply, and will need to meet a “fit and proper person” test as decided by the Registrar of Celebrants as set out in section 39C (2) of the Act. Please refer to the Marriage Act for the full explanation.

Cap on appointments

Registration does not automatically follow from completing this course of training. A person may be assessed as being suitable but may have to wait some time before gaining authorisation to be a marriage celebrant. Other than meeting all of the criteria, a capping to the number of appointments applies for the first five years of the reform, commencement being September 1 2003. The cap is set at 20% increase each year on the total number of authorised celebrants in the previous year. Where regions have reached the quota, you will then be placed on the waiting list for appointment the following registration year.

Under the new system, authorised marriage celebrants must comply with the Code of Practice, undertake annual professional development, and will be subject to performance review.

Application Forms

On successful completion of the Marriage Celebrant Training course, students need to contact the Celebrant’s Section of the Federal Attorney-General’s Department to obtain an application package. The application form exists in the Marriage Regulations, (pages 81 to 88) however it is not advisable to use this format, as the application package has a thorough explanation of the application process.

Progress of your application

It is not necessary to contact the Marriage Celebrant Section to check on the progress of your application. You will receive an acknowledgement in writing, and then 3 months hence, the decision on your application will be forwarded to you.

When you successfully become a marriage celebrant, the Registrar of Marriage Celebrants places your name and details on the official “Register of Marriage Celebrants” which can be seen at

Your ongoing professionalism

As an authorised celebrant, you must fulfil a range of obligations including compliance with the Code of Practice and undertaking professional development activities annually. Within five years, you will also be subject to a Performance Review.

The Federal Attorney-General’s Department – Marriage Celebrants Section – issue a list which is posted to all celebrants at the end of August in each year.

The list contains the names of organisations that provide Ongoing Professional Development to celebrants, and the nature of the activity, and the celebrant must undertake at least 5 hours of O.P.D. each year.

The celebrant must choose activities that total at least 5 hours in duration, which includes one or more compulsory activities presented by the Attorney-General’s Department – Marriage Celebrant’s Section.

This Ongoing Professional Development is one way in which celebrants collaborate with colleagues to develop, maintain and improve their skills and resources.

There are other avenues that achieve a similar outcome, as listed below:

(a) Membership and attendance at meetings of Marriage Celebrant Association

(b) Membership and receipt of periodical newsletters from Marriage Celebrant Association

(c) Meeting with other celebrants in your own area, or celebrants from outside your area

(d) Visiting celebrants on the website

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