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Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Second and Subsequent Stages (Continued)

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 5

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton] The main provisions of the Bill concerning marriage are to provide for common preliminaries and a single set of documentation for all marriages; the introduction of the marriage registration form, which is a single licensing system; the establishment of a register of solemnisers; and provision for a choice of venue for civil marriages.

Section 51 provides that a marriage may be legally solemnised only by a registered solemniser. Section 53 provides for the establishment of a register of solemnisers. Section 54 provides that a religious body or the Health Service Executive may apply to have a member of the religious body in question or a registrar, respectively, entered in the register.

It is clear that many of our citizens wish to celebrate their commitment to each other through a non-religious marriage ceremony. Deputies will be interested to learn that of the 19,828 marriages held in 2011, almost 6,000 were civil ceremonies. This represents 29% of all marriages performed in 2011 and compares to a figure of 6% of marriages in 1996. In 2011, there were 5,413 religious solemnisers and 113 civil solemnisers registered in the Register of Solemnisers to conduct valid marriage ceremonies.

This Bill will provide that valid marriages can be performed by bodies that fulfil the criteria of a secular body, as laid down in the legislation, reflecting the varied belief systems in a modern society which still holds marriage as a valuable life choice. In this regard, the Bill extends the definition of the term "body" in relation to marriages to include also a "secular body". It sets out criteria which must be met by a body before it can apply to have one of its members solemnise marriage. While this limits somewhat the bodies that would be eligible, it respects the obligation of the State to safeguard the institution of marriage and ensures the bodies involved are stable, long-standing and reputable organisations.

The body must be in existence for at least five years, be an organised group of people who have secular, ethical and humanist beliefs in common, have a minimum of 50 people and meet on a regular basis. It must also have an entitlement to an exemption under section 207 or 208 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 and cannot have the making of profit as one of its main purposes. In addition, there is a list of organisations which are deemed, for the purposes of the Bill, not to be secular bodies. These include chambers of commerce, organisations that are political, sporting, athletic, trade union or representative in nature and bodies that promote purposes that are unlawful, contrary to public policy or morality, in support of terrorism or terrorist activities or for the benefit of an organisation of which membership is unlawful.

The bodies will be required to meet the criteria on a continuous basis and will be obliged to inform An tArd-Chláraitheoir - the Registrar General - if they cease to do so. In the event of a body not meeting all of the criteria, the body's members will be removed from the Register of Solemnisers. There is scope within the Bill to allow for appeals and reinstatement on the register where it is seen fit.

In amending the Civil Registration Act 2004 the Bill adds in the concept of a "secular body" to those sections that had previously provided for a religious body.

I propose to summarise the main provisions of the Bill and in doing so, I acknowledge the work done on the Bill by the Upper House and my party colleague, Senator Ivana Bacik. Many religious bodies have been defined as solemnisers of marriage. They include not only all the major religions but also many religious bodies with which many Deputies will not be familiar. Section 1 provides for the definition of the term "Principal Act" used throughout the Bill as the Civil Registration Act 2004.

Section 2 amends section 45 of the principal Act and inserts and modifies definitions in the principal Act to provide for the broadening of the type of bodies which can apply to have a member added to the Register of Solemnisers by including secular bodies.

Section 45 provides for the definitions used in Part 6 of the Civil Registration Act 2004, which relates to the amendment of the law relating to marriages. At present, this section only provides that a religious body and the executive, namely, registrars appointed by the Health Service Executive who are included on the Register of Solemnisers held in the Office of the Registrar General, can conduct valid wedding ceremonies. This amendment and the insertion of section 45(A), as provided for in section 3, will allow bodies who fulfil the criteria of a secular body as defined to conduct valid marriages.

Section 3 amends section 45 and sets out the interpretation of the definition of the term "secular body" for the purposes of the Bill. For the purposes of this Part, a body shall be a secular body if it has not fewer than 50 members; its principal objects are secular, ethical and humanist; members of the body meet regularly in relation to their beliefs and in furtherance of their principal objects; any rules regarding marriage, or the solemnising of marriages, do not contravene the requirements of the Act or the law; it is shown to the satisfaction of the Registrar General that it has appropriate procedures around the selection, training and accreditation of solemnisers; it has been in continuous existence for at least five years; it has, for at least five years, an entitlement to an exemption under section 207 or 208 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 in respect of which a number stands issued by the Revenue Commissioners for the purpose of that exemption and that number stood issued for a continuous period of five years immediately preceding the date of its most recent application; and does not have the making of profit as one of its principal objects; and maintains a register of members.

In addition, this section provides for a list of bodies which are deemed not to be secular bodies for the purposes of this Part. These are as follows: a political party or a body that promotes a political party or candidate; a body that promotes a political cause; an approved body of persons within the meaning of section 235 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997; a trade union or representative body of employers; a chamber of commerce; and a body that promotes purposes that are unlawful, contrary to public morality, contrary to public policy, in support of terrorism or terrorist activities, whether in the State or outside the State, or for the benefit of an organisation membership of which is unlawful.

Section 4 provides for the amendment of section 51 of the principal Act to include solemnisers from secular bodies in the requirements to be met for a valid solemnisation of marriage. Section 51 provides that a marriage may be legally solemnised only by a registered solemniser. It sets out the elements required to be met so that a valid marriage takes place.

Section 5 provides for the amendment of section 53(4) of the principal Act to allow the Registrar General to refuse to register a person if he or she considers that the body concerned is not a secular body.

Section 53 provides for the establishment of a register of solemnisers to be maintained by An tArd-Chláraitheoir. The register holds the names of all solemnisers who have been approved to conduct valid marriages and is open to inspection by the public.

Section 6 provides for the amendment of section 54 of the principal Act to include secular bodies in the categories of bodies that may apply for registration of persons on the register of solemnisers. An officer of the secular body must sign a certificate to the effect that, in his or her opinion, the nominated person is a fit and proper person to solemnise a marriage and confirm that the nominee has been selected, trained and accredited by the secular body in accordance with its procedures. The section also sets out procedures for requesting additional information from bodies regarding an application on behalf of a member to become a registered solemniser.


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