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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]   Section 7 provides for the amendment of section 55 of the principal Act to include the cessation of a body as a religious or secular body as a reason the registration of a person may be cancelled on the Register of Solemnisers.

  Section 55 provides for the cancellation of the registration of a registered solemniser by the Registrar General on a number of grounds, including a request for cancellation or that the marriage ceremony does not adhere to the necessary declarations. A registration may be also cancelled if the registered solemniser is convicted of an offence under the Act, carries on a business solemnising marriage for profit or gain, is not a fit and proper person to solemnise marriages or for any other reason.

  Section 55 sets out the requirements for the Registrar General if he or she intends to cancel a registration. The amendment provides an inclusion of secular bodies so that their registrations may be cancelled under the same criteria, if required.

  Section 8 provides for the amendment of section 56 of the principal Act to include secular bodies in the provisions to appeal against refusals or cancellations of registration in the Register of Solemnisers.

  Section 56 of the principal Act provides for leave to appeal to the Circuit Court if the Minister dismisses an appeal on the grounds that the body has ceased to be a religious body. This section provides the same appeal rights to a secular body. If the Minister dismisses an appeal on any other ground, a party to the appeal may appeal against the dismissal on a point of law to the Circuit Court. This section provides the same appeal rights to a secular body or to a party to the appeal who is not a member of a secular body.

  Section 9 provides for the amendment of section 57 of the principal Act to allow for the granting of temporary authorisation to solemnise marriage to solemnisers from secular bodies. Section 57 of the principal Act already provides for the temporary authorisation of members of a religious body to solemnise marriage. An application made by a secular body under this section will be in such form and containing such particulars as may be determined by the Registrar General. The application must be made by an officer of the body. The certificate must be furnished in a satisfactory form, stating that the person to be temporarily authorised is suitably trained and accredited as set out in section 45A(1)(e) and, in the opinion of that person of standing, is a fit and proper person to solemnise a marriage.

  In addition, this section will provide for the Registrar General to request further information regarding applications for temporary solemnisers from a religious or secular body. Currently, there is no provision for the Registrar General to request additional information from religious bodies and this amendment will provide for such a request.

  Section 10 provides for the Short Title, collective citations, construction and any necessary commencement.

  This Bill represents a significant and important change to the Civil Registration Act 2004, which sees us, as a nation, recognise the increasing desire of people to celebrate marriage in a way that includes their own secular, ethical and humanist beliefs. Marriage is an important institution and this Bill enhances its role in Irish law and society. I welcome the Bill, as it includes members of humanist organisations in the group of solemnisers, which to date has been confined to civil registrars and a wide set of religious faiths and bodies.

   I commend the Bill to the House.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea I welcome the Bill and we have no notion of opposing it. In fact, we support it strongly. I acknowledge the great deal of work done on the Bill by a number of Members in the Seanad, in particular Senator Bacik.

On the surface, the Bill looks unexceptional and does not seem like it would make much difference. However, it represents a fundamental change. Hitherto, only two groups were enabled to solemnise marriage, those being, religious institutions, as defined, and the State in the form of the HSE. The Bill extends the category of people who can solemnise marriage to what are called secular bodies.

On the whole, the Bill allows differences to be accommodated and makes the law more inclusive and pluralist. As the Minister stated, the proportion of people choosing non-religious civil wedding ceremonies has grown rapidly in the past 20 or 25 years and continues to grow. As legislators, we must recognise and adapt to this change.

The term "secular body" has been widely defined in section 3. It must be an organised group of not fewer than 50 people, its objects must be "secular, ethical and humanist", its members must meet regularly, it must be in existence for at least five years and it must have a charitable tax status exemption of at least five years standing. To clarify further, the section goes on to indicate which bodies are definitely not regarded as secular bodies for the purposes of solemnising marriage, for example and unsurprisingly, chambers of commerce, political organisations, trade unions, sporting organisations and organisations that promote terrorism or carry out activities that are unlawful or contrary to public policy or morality. Despite this fairly extensive definition, there remains room for argument as to what is meant exactly. In the years to come, the courts will be exercised trying to establish facts under this section, particularly in terms of the objects that bodies must have, for example, what is secular, ethical or humanist.

As I understand it, the original intention was to allow the Humanist Association of Ireland to perform wedding ceremonies. This could have been done by providing an amendment that mentioned the association specifically. There is precedent for doing so. The Minister has decided to go further, which is fine as far as we are concerned, but did mentioning the association specifically pose a difficulty? Given the objects outlined in the Bill, there is a broad hint to the effect that the Humanist Association of Ireland should be included within the ambit of secular associations. Nevertheless, I welcome the fact that the Humanist Association of Ireland will, as a result of this legislation, be entitled to solemnise marriage ceremonies among its members.

I have never attended a humanist wedding, but I recently attended a humanist funeral in Limerick. I was impressed by the dignity and solemnity of the occasion. People of the humanist persuasion espouse an ethical philosophy of life and are required to act with reason and compassion. I do not doubt that many of them live their lives far better than people who claim to be members of particular religious organisations.

Will the Minister clarify why she decided to go further in the provision? There may be a good reason for doing so.

Under section 45A(2), a number of organisations can be refused access to the register on the basis that their objects are contrary to public morality, public policy or so on. However, this provision only relates to a secular group. In so far as religious groups are concerned, a religious group is defined in the original legislation - the definition has not been changed in this Bill - as "an organised group of people members of which meet regularly for common religious worship." This is a broad definition. During the Seanad debates, questions were raised about organisations such as the Church of Scientology, pagan associations and the Universal Church of Satan.

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