Thursday, 13 August 2009

NOT PJ: ‘Til bureaucratic meddling do us part

Why can’t Bernard Darnton divorce the government? They’ve already taken half his property.

_BernardDarnton If you think you’re living in wedded bliss it may just be bliss. Finger-waggers from the Department of Internal Affairs have been wagging their fingers at marriage celebrants who just sign the legal documents but let someone else stand up the front, read out the vows, and make the cute jokes “to lighten-up proceedings” (because weddings are usually so miserable).

Finger-wagger-general of the DIA Brian Clarke has warned that his rubber stamping and box-ticking colleagues may refuse to rubber stamp or tick the boxes of some marriage ceremonies. In the same way that a humble DIA box-ticker would never dare assume the more important duties of a finger-wagger, a best mate with two night’s experience doing stand-up at Fat Eddie's should never be allowed to take on the solemn responsibilities of an officially recognised marriage celebrant.

Now, I can understand why people get married. After all, I’m married (and my wife is reading this over my shoulder so … best behaviour). What I can’t work out is why the government cares.

I can see that you might need some kind of official box-ticker recording this stuff if you’re a girl and you ever want to get a visa for Saudi Arabia. Or that you need some way of working out who’s allowed to tell the doctor to turn the ventilator off. But why you need a member of some exclusive guild to witness the deal is beyond me.

The truly perplexing part is that Births, Deaths and Marriages is banging on about people not being legally married when the previous government, via changes to the Property (Relationships) Act, automagically married anyone who was standing too close together – without anybody except the Governor-General signing anything.

The Press interviewed Christchurch marriage celebrant Julie Lassen for their exposé on this topic and she said, “It has been happening and it’s really very bad.” She didn’t explain why. Presumably it’s because of the risk of having a ceremony that doesn’t result in a marriage. Perhaps a worry born from experience because Lassen’s website boasts that “her weddings are renowned for going without a hitch.”

It looks as if the National Guild of New Zealand Celebrants is simply trying to drum up business for the National Guild of New Zealand Celebrants – what economists call “rent seeking” and the rest of us call “getting your face in the trough.” No doubt they have all sorts of imaginative reasons why your marriage might be unsafe or unhealthy unless it’s been solemnised by someone who filled in the right form and posted it to Internal Affairs. No doubt those reasons are all crap.

Unless you subscribe to some flavour of mystical nonsense – and celebrants only have to be endorsed by the DIA, not a deity – it doesn’t matter who officiates at a wedding. The promises you make in front of your friends and family are the same. Property law applies whether you’re married, civilly united, or just plain old shacked up. So why the silly laws and finger-wagging?

As usual, we’d be better off if the government had nothing to do with it. At the civil union demonstration in Wellington in 2004, while Bishop-to-be Brian Tamaki and his Density Church were seig-heiling their way up Lambton Quay and the land-rights-for-gay-whales brigade was waiting for them at Parliament there was one lonely soul in Parliament’s grounds carrying a placard that said “Repeal the Marriage Act.” He was the only person talking much sense that day.

* * Read Bernard Darnton’s column every Thursday here at NOT PC * *


  1. It always staggered me that more of a stink wasn't made about the property relationships act which, as Bernie says, automatically married people who choose to live in the same house.

    People bang on about this that and the other being a basic human right (and the latest appears to be communication, so we have to buy other people computers) but for fucks sake, isn't it kind of fundamental to be able to choose who you want to marry, and when? According to Helen and her coven, no. So you have to spend thousands with a lawyer and days/weeks being sent to Coventry to contract out of it. Of all the crap we got covered with by that shower of arseholes, the PRA was one of the worst examples, but for most people it's invisible.

  2. there was one lonely soul in Parliament’s grounds carrying a placard that said “Repeal the Marriage Act.” He was the only person talking much sense that day.

    Indeed - and I was proud to stand near that chap, a member of the Libz on Campus.

  3. TW, the Matrimonial Property Act -- another gem from Margaret Wilson -- was ushered in during that first Clark term when most of the media were besotted with them, to put it mildly.

    It's no coincidence that all the major pieces of legislation in the earlier part of Clark's tenure occurred in that first term -- and all had Wilson's name stamped all over them.

    And when the dirty deeds were done, she was conveniently moved sideways. She was the private face to Clark's public one.

    And all that from the woman who ran a poor *third* in her electorate behind Winston & the Nat. MMP has much to answer for.

  4. What I can’t work out is why the government cares.

    Because it's the gummint's responsibility to make sure that everything about everyone is known and recorded and especially that those boxes are ticked with the correct coloured ink from an OSH-approved pen just in case, and that four people are employed to check the data for our own protection. This is why we should have as many people on welfare as possible - there are way more forms to fill out than if people worked for a living.

    In fact, when you think about it, the more they know about us the better really, or we'd have to remember all of that crazy stuff ourselves and maybe even go to the extreme of making our own decisions. The way things are going is fantastic, as soon we won't even have to concern ourselves with paltry things like personal responsibility or freedom, as the gummint will kindly take care of all of that for us.

    Can you imagine the sheer bliss of not having to worry about whether your hemorrhoids are itching? The govt would be able to tell you if they're itchy or not, and you could avoid inappropriate bum scratching in public. God bless the gummint, I say.

  5. On serious note, a friend of mine applied for a celebrant's license so he could officiate at his sister's wedding. His application was denied because (and this is a direct quote from the letter) 'there are already sufficient celebrant's (sic)in your area'. It's just bullshit isn't it?

  6. Please don't tell us things like that Marcus - it just really irritates and there's nothing we can do about it short of storming the government offices with pitchforks and flaming torches.

  7. @twr: I think the reason that the Property (Relationships) Act slipped past was that people were so giddy about civil unions that they didn't notice what was coming in on its coattails.

    Those that did notice and pointed out what was going on were slandered as gay-bashers.

    Stephen Franks pointed out at the time that the government was automatically marrying people who might not want to be married and voted against the legislation. Then at every Wellington Central election meeting I went to last year someone stood up and asked him why he hated homosexuals.


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