The civil celebrancy movement and profession began in Australia in 1973 under an initiative by Attorney-General Lionel Murphy. It was driven by a recognition that the existing system was not providing dignity, choice or a spiritual experience for many citizens. At that time the options were essentially either a religious or a civil ceremony, the latter being designed to cover the required legal formalities. For many who either chose not to have a religious ceremony or were not allowed, the civil ceremony left unmet their need for a spiritual element.
Murphy brought in legislation allowing civil celebrants to conduct marriages. The number of celebrants started to grow, although the development of the movement was far from straightforward. It faced opposition from various quarters, including feminists (many of whom were against marriage as an institution). When some celebrants began conducting funerals there was even division within the movement itself. Other obstacles included a cap on fees, making the profession almost unviable as a way to earn a living, the appointment of too many civil celebrants and ensuring quality of standards.
Gradually, however, as society in Australia and elsewhere changed, so civil celebrancy became more accepted: e.g. rising divorce rates and a desire to move away from the traditional vows and ceremonies offered by the church, all contributed to increased demand for ceremonies officiated by civil celebrants. Other ceremonies such as naming ceremonies and renewal of vows started to evolve and as the gay rights movement strengthened, civil celebrancy offered a way for same sex unions to be celebrated.
Since its inception, civil celebrancy has spread to many countries across the world, including the UK. The number of people opting for civil ceremonies in this country continues to grow, both in reputation and as a market.
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