Back in May, I mulled over how the Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages would exercise its powers under this provision of the Relationships Act 2008:
27(1) The Registrar may enter into an arrangement for the provision of additional services in connection with the provision of services relating to the registration of a registrable relationship, including, but not limited to– (a) the provision of information in the form of a decorative certificate or other document; (b) the provision of information from records maintained under section 26 relating to the registered relationship.
The registry has applied an identical provision in the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 to provide for decorative marriage certificates and for registry marriages in the Old Treasury Building. I wondered whether there’d also be decorative registration certificates and, more interestingly, state-run registration ceremonies:
Arguably, it has to. The steps of the argument are: (a) that Charter s. 8, in providing for recognition before the law, a right to enjoy human rights without discrimination and a right to equal protection of the law, provides a right for unmarried couples to get the same recognition of their relationship that is afforded to marriage couples; (b) that state-run ceremonies are a form of such recognition and that the fact that marriage requires ’solemnization’, whereas relationships don’t, is not a significant difference; (c) that the Registar is a ‘public authority‘ (not much doubt there: see s4(1)(b)); (d) that the Registrar is therefore obliged to provide the same ceremony to both marriages and relationships under Charter s.38(1) (the conduct mandate); and (e) that the Marriage Act does not make it reasonable for the Registrar to not to do so under Charter s. 38(2)…
On the latter point, the ACT Registrar-General now provides such a service in the form of a ‘commitment ceremony’, attended and ‘managed’ by a Deputy Registry-General for a fee of $275 and including a program of the ceremony that is every bit as lame moving as a a modern wedding:
I partner 1 take you partner 2 to be my partner for life,
I promise above all else to live in truth with you,
and to communicate fully and fearlessly
I give you my hand and my heart
as a sanctuary of warmth and peace
and pledge my love, devotion, faith and honour
as I join my life to yours.
It even allows for the exchange of rings or cups(?) and the interminable ‘readings’. ‘Appropriate Symbols and Music may also add to the sense of celebration (couple to supply music and equipment if music to be played throughout the program.)’ Oh god. Robert McCleland, despite his initial concern about ceremonies ‘mimicking’ marrages, has not vetoed the ACT Civil Parternships Act, indicating that he, at least, doesn’t think that such Registry ceremonies involve some sort of conflict with the Commonwealth’s straight-only marriage law. As near I can tell, the ACT government does not provide a similar service for people who want to get married. [Can someone confirm this?]
Well, the long-awaited commencement day of the Victorian system arrived yesterday, bringing the news that the Victorian Registry now provides a ‘Commemorative Relationship Certificate’ for the bargain price of $39. (It’s not an official certificate that can be used to gain the sole legal benefit of the scheme, proof that you’re in a relationship for the purposes of Victorian statutes. For that, you need to fork out $25.80 for an official certificate.) See commemorative version above between ‘John James Citizen’, labourer and (ahem) “Sam Smith”, student, both living in Richmond but, it seems, in separate houses. Ah, those old-fashioned types! The commerative (but not official) registration certificate will have a space for the newly-regs to nominate when they ‘celebrated’ their relationship, as well as a separate entry for when they both agree that their relationship ‘began’. (Do married people get to make a similar nomination?)
The version shown above is the ‘eternity’ model. Eternity, that is, until one of you decides to lodge an ‘application to revoke a registered relationship‘, in which case your relationship will be deregistered 90 days later, unless you submit a withdrawal form. (Alternatively, one – or, if you’re straight, both – of you can just get married, in which case deregistration is automatic and mandatory.) Maybe such folks should opt for the ‘calligraphy’ model, which features watermark words like ‘love’ and ‘unity’. But, beware, the revocation form isn’t available yet. However, newly-registereds who already have cold feet can just withdraw their application to register, which isn’t finalised until 28 days after application (or longer if you get some details wrong!) Alas, you won’t get back your $180 registration payment!
But will the Registry offer relationship registration ceremonies? It appears not. The Registry website menu offers a link for ‘registry marriages’ but no similar one for relationship registration. People who want to get married have to fork out $225 (for mid-week marriages) but that price includes a ‘keepsake certifcate‘. I can’t find any pictures of that. I wonder if it comes in eternity and calligraphy models? All up, Victorian marriages (with pretty certificate) cost $6 more than Victorian relationship registration (with pretty certificate), but the newlyweds get a ceremony at the Old Treasury for their money, whereas the newly-registereds get to watch someone stamp a form at the Registry office.
Does that sound like ‘equal protection of the law without discrimination‘? And the acts of a public authority that are compatible with that right?