Who are authorised to officiate marriage in Australia?

Marriage started as and is a civil function in Western Tradition although the churches became in involved later --originally to record marriages.

Being a civil and legal function, Subdivisions A and B originally were chosen on the basis of their ability to act with integrity for the good of the parties to the marriage and for the public good.

There are four subdivisions of ‘authorised celebrant’ under Division 1 of the Marriage Act.

Authorised marriage celebrants who are registered by the States and Territories to solemnise marriages

  1. Subdivision A Ministers of religion who are authorised to solemnise marriages for a recognised denomination. This subdivision of authorised celebrants have a registration number beginning with a letter that relates to the state or territory in which they were registered (such as ‘W’, ‘S’, ‘V’, ‘N’)

  2. Subdivision B State and Territory Officers—whether staff of Registries of Births, Deaths and Marriages (BDM) or court officers—who are authorised to solemnise marriages as part of their employment.  

Authorised marriage celebrants who are registered by the Commonwealth under the Marriage Celebrants Programme to solemnise marriages

  1. Subdivision C Marriage celebrants authorised to perform civil ceremonies
    Marriage celebrants authorised under the Commonwealth Registrar have a registration number beginning with the letter ‘A’.

  2. Subdivision D Religious Marriage celebrants authorised to perform religious ceremonies.
    Marriage celebrants authorised under the Commonwealth Registrar have a registration number beginning with the letter ‘A’.

    This subdivision consists of:
    i. Ministers of independent religious organisations
    ii. Marriage celebrants who on the basis of their religious beliefs, transferred to Subdivision D so they could marry only heterosexual couples.

Note:

  1. Chaplains and ADF marriage officers of the Australian Defence Forces (ADF), who solemnise marriages overseas under Part V of the Marriage Act, are also authorised celebrants under the Act.  

  2. Until 2003, the Commonwealth Attorney-General had direct control of Subdivision C.

Since then, the responsibilities for the authorisations of Subdivision C celebrants has been delegated under Section 39 of the Marriage Act to a public servant Registrar (full-time of part-time) to the apply the Act.

The legislation does give some guidance to the Registrar, but the social changes in Australia in the last 50+ years means the Marriage Act 196 now contains so many anomalies that there are requirements made of some groups of marriage celebrants that are not made of other groups.

We consider some of these differences are detrimental to the public and discriminatory against independent civil celebrants. 

In  December 2017,  the parliament moved religious celebrants of non-aligned small organisations out of Subdivision C into Subdivision D.