The discussion of Freedom of Religion in relation to proposed changes to the Marriage Act should not avoid analysis of how the current Act refers to a wedding ceremony’s “monitum”. The Marriage Act decrees that the “Monitum” must be announced when a marriage is conducted by one authorised to do so. But how now will a new “monitum” function under the proposed changes to the Act? How will the Act’s view of the wedding ceremony be configured?
So to explore this we might have to investigate how civil ceremonies have been conducted since the legislated changes to the 2004 Marriage Act. At least one civil marriage celebrants (see e.g. https://www.sarahaird.com.au/the-monitum-and-marriage-equality/) has been willing to allow those involved in civil marriage ceremonies to promote Marriage Equality in the context of the albeit compliant ceremony. The celebrant will utter the words required by legislation and, by agreement with the marrying couple, add their own statements of solidarity with “Marriage Equality”. The celebrant will have read out the statement required by law and the ceremony has been sensitively formed the ceremony to expresses the couple’s views which may dissent from what the required wording of the Monitum implies about marriage per se.
The wording of the Monitum reads as follows:
“I am duly authorised by law to solemnise marriages according to law. Before you are married in my presence and in the presence of these witnesses, I am to remind you of the solemn and binding nature of the relationship into which you are now about to enter. Marriage, according to the law in Australia, is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.”
So, the question arises: how will the “monitum” appear in the newly legislated Marriage Act? I write this article because I believe there are good public justice reasons for the inclusion of more than one monita. And freedom of religion in relation to the marriage should begin with freedom of religion in the wedding ceremony itself. And so, a “lawful option” for celebrants of a Christian civil wedding ceremony would read:
I am duly authorised by law to solemnise marriages according to law. Before you are married in my presence and in the presence of these witnesses, I am to remind you of the solemn and binding nature of the relationship into which you are now about to enter. Marriage, as the lawful union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life, is recognised as marriage by law in Australia.
Such a formulation would quietly and non-politically affirm the desire of those seeking to be joined in a civil ceremony under the law that they believe is a husband-and-wife marital union. The Monitum in the amended Act should not be predicated on the view that Christian couples who wish to be married can go elsewhere for their wedding ceremony. That is up to them. Is the law going to imply that a Christian (or religious) wedding can only take place in a church? Is the Monitum going to suggest to a Christian couple wanting to be married in a civil ceremony that their wedding is necessarily “secular” because the Marriage Act has been changed to include lawful recognition of same-sex unions as marriage?
Freedom of religion in relation to weddings should not be narrowed down to merely a matter of the consciences of ministers or celebrants conducting a wedding whether in a church or in a civil ceremony. There should be freedom of religion for civil celebrants of whatever faith or no faith to conduct weddings in a civil ceremony according to their beliefs and the Marriage Act should respect that. But there is no public justice reason why the law should exclude the possibility of Christian (or Jewish or Muslim) civil celebrants who will conduct husband-and-wife weddings for those seeking to form a marriage with such religious beliefs about marriage. Public justice requires legal respect for all marriages including those of Christian couples. However small that number may be, those who wish to be married as husband and wife in a civil ceremony should not have to deal with a Monitum that effectively deconstructs their desire to be wife-and-husband.
So, we are also talking about a Christian (or other religious) weddings in civil ceremonies. The discussion about freedom of religion with respect to the proposed changes to the Marriage Act has very often been misconceived. If freedom of religion is to mean anything it must also be ascribed to those seeking to be wed. Prospective married couples should not have to indulge a ceremony that includes legislated Monitum wording that violates their views of the nature and basis of their marital union and effectively tells them that their religious views about marriage are “private”. This also raises a very interesting question; has the 2004 Marriage Act changes facilitated freedom of religion for those with religious beliefs that do not view marriage exclusively in the terms of the current Monitum?
Christian couples should not be shapherded by a Marriage Act reform that requires them to make a choice between either going to a church for their wedding or becoming “secular” by going to a civil celebrant. Will civil celebrant registration be closed to include only those who embrace same-sex marriage? Is the secularist view of civil weddings to be viewed as sacrosanct?
The committee convened by Philip Ruddock face the challenge of breaking genuinely new ground for civil liberty. How is the committee going to consider freedom of religion for prospective married couples in relation to the registration of civil marriage celebrants?
There is more that has to be discussed on this matter but that will have to wait until next time, perhaps some time after Christmas.
Bruce Wearne is a former Chisholm Institute and Monash University Lecturer in Sociology (1982-1998) and lives in Point Lonsdale. He continues to investigate the history of 20th century sociology.