http://www.smh.com.au/national/illegal- ... 138xx.html
THOUSANDS of marriages conducted by celebrants may be invalid because the wrong words have been used in the ceremony.
Celebrants must recite precise words from the Marriage Act for a wedding to be valid beyond dispute. But almost 80 per cent of the ceremonies the federal Attorney-General's department examined last year did not comply with requirements.
Of the 336 sample ceremonies submitted by celebrants as part of their five-yearly review, 261 did not comply with sections 45 and/or 46 of the act, a spokesman for the department said.
As well, 1339 celebrants have been deregistered or chosen to resign since September 2003 as a result of their performance review.
Celebrants say the problem is a symptom of the huge numbers entering the field since deregulation in 2003, and of ''cowboy'' trainers. Some also claim an overly legalistic approach is being imposed on celebrants.
''When I check out ceremonies for new celebrants, I do find large numbers are not 100 per cent within the law,'' said Keith Lammond, the president of Australian Marriage Celebrants, a professional association. ''The most common thing they get wrong is the vow.''
A training DVD produced by the department in 2008 says: ''The vows used in a marriage ceremony are legally crucial. Not following the requirements of section 45 in the vows can result in a void or invalid marriage. There are no exceptions to this.''
It would be up to the Family Court to declare a marriage invalid and this could affect wills, residence visas and bank loans.
But Tony Gelme, the president of the Coalition of Celebrant Associations, said it would be unlikely an incorrect wedding vow would constitute sufficient grounds to nullify a marriage.
A ''distraught'' celebrant told an online forum this month that the department had found the sample ceremony she submitted in 2007 was non-compliant and
had taken three years to inform her. ''I've conducted many, many ceremonies since [then].'' She said she was worried that the ceremonies she had performed were invalid.
According to the DVD, celebrants must say: ''I call upon the persons here present to witness that I, AB (or CD), take thee, CD (or AB) to be my lawful wedded wife (or husband).'' Or words to that effect.
''Words to that effect'' once gave celebrants leeway but since 2006-07 the department has imposed a narrow legal interpretation. The celebrant can leave out ''lawful'' or ''wedded'' but not both, and can change ''persons'' to ''people'' but not to ''family and friends''. The DVD also instructs that while ''spouse'' can be used, ''partner'' must not.
A particular problem, according to postings on the Australian Marriage Celebrants online forum, is that some celebrants put the vow in question form: ''AB do you take CD to be your lawful wedded wife?'' Though CD says ''I do'', Mr Lammond advises this may not be ''worth a cracker''. The ''asking'' was not a legal requirement, just a tradition, and did not constitute the vow, he told celebrants. Celebrants must also cite words from section 46 of the act, known as the ''monitum'', which include ''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''.
Since Parliament defined marriage narrowly in 2004 to rule out the possibility of gay unions, the department has disallowed the use of substitute words. ''You could reverse the order of 'man' and 'woman', but that is all,'' the DVD says.
Celebrants report that some couples seek to change section 46 because of sensitivity to gay friends or relatives. But a celebrant who wanted to oblige a couple was advised: ''It wasn't worth it.'' He risked being deregistered and the marriage might be void.
The number of celebrants has grown from about 2000 in 2003 when restrictions on appointments began to be lifted to 10,400 now. They are required to gain qualifications and attend professional development each year. Mr Gelme said tighter rules introduced this year had failed to rid the industry of rogue trainers. ''We have gone off the rails in allowing so many people to be badly trained.''