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Tuesday, 7 October 2003
Page: 20742

Mr McClelland asked the Attorney-General, upon notice, on 11 August 2003:

(1) Is he aware of a television program titled Surprise Weddings broadcast on Channel 7 in Sydney.

(2) Has he obtained advice regarding the compatibility of that program and the requirements of the Marriage Act 1961.

(3) Does he intend to take any steps to correct the public record as to the procedures involved in engaging an authorised Marriage Celebrant to conduct a marriage service.

Mr Williams (Attorney-General) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) Yes, I am aware of the program.

(2) I understand that there was a disclaimer at the end of the program to which the honourable member refers, to the effect that all marriages performed on the show were symbolic and that legal marriages would subsequently be arranged for the couples. Hence, in fact, the couples were not legally married on the program. It is likely that this disclaimer would not have been observed by many viewers.

I am advised that the marriage celebrant who participated in the program was not one appointed by the Commonwealth. He was a minister of religion of a recognised denomination under the Marriage Act 1961 and appointed by the New South Wales Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

(3) The program does give rise to a number of issues of concern.

There are certain legal requirements to be followed prior to, during and after a wedding ceremony to ensure that a marriage is valid. For example, the Marriage Act requires that a couple intending to get married provide to an authorised marriage celebrant a Notice of Intended Marriage. This must be provided at least one month before the intended marriage. This notice requirement enables the parties to reflect on their decision to marry and to avail themselves of relationship education services. It is possible that the program may have misled people into thinking that there is no notice period for marriage.

It is also possible that the circumstances of the program could result in people feeling pressured into agreeing to marriage. Receiving a proposal of marriage before a large audience would certainly place a degree of pressure on the surprised party to agree. It is important that all marriages are entered into with the full and free consent of both parties.

In September 2002 the Attorney-General's Department notified marriage celebrants appointed by the Commonwealth that it is inappropriate to be involved in ceremonies of this sort because of the concerns mentioned above. The website of the Attorney-General's Department also clearly sets out the notice requirements for marriage. The Department keeps this matter under review and will consider sending out further material warning against participation in such ceremonies should it prove necessary.