This entry is part 13 of 20 in the series Marriage Legalities
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Description of parties and gender on the NOIM

By Published On: January 11, 2022Categories: Marriage Legalities
This entry is part 13 of 20 in the series Marriage Legalities

When marriage equality became a thing in December 2017, the Australian Government decided to add two new items to the Notice of Intended Marriage (NOIM). The first one asked parties to the marriage to choose a descriptor: Bride, Groom, or Partner. The second one asked parties to identify their sex: Male, Female, or X (updated in September 2021 to gender: Female, Male, or Non-binary). Let’s have a look at these two items involving gender on the NOIM and how they work.

Description of parties

Item 1 on the NOIM is Description of parties. It asks parties to choose whether they would like to be described as Partner, Bride, or Groom. This is for the use of the Registries of Births, Deaths and Marriages (BDM) when they issue marriage certificates. They can use the selected description at the top of the column rather than Person 1 and Person 2 as appears on the marriage documents. Honestly, I think that’s a pretty rubbish reason for adding this item. I don’t really see the point of it, but it seems to be here to stay.

It’s useful to note that this item is included on the Official Certificates of Marriage.

Instructions for choosing descriptions

The instructions on page 2 of the NOIM for this item state:

It is up to each party to the marriage to decide how they want to describe themselves.

As you can read in my article about it, I fought hard for this instruction. The original instruction was that only parties who identified as female could choose bride. Only parties who identified as male could choose groom. I didn’t understand why on earth that should be. The point of the marriage equality legislation was to remove sex and gender from the equation. Now here we were, putting people in boxes again. I’m pleased to report that I won that argument and now anyone can choose to be Bride, Groom, or Partner. The description they choose does not need to match their sex or gender identity.

Link between NOIM descriptions and legal vows

It is also important to note that the description parties choose on the NOIM does not need to align with the terminology they choose for the legal vows in the ceremony. The legal vows (s45 of the Marriage Act 1961) are as follows:

“I call upon the persons here present to witness that I, A.B. (or C.D.), take thee, C.D. (or A.B.), to be my lawful wedded wife (or husband, or spouse)” or words to that effect. [NB: “Partner in marriage” is also allowable terminology under words to that effect.]

If a party chooses Bride on the NOIM, they do not have to choose Wife in the vows. Same for Groom and Husband, Partner and Spouse or Partner in marriage. Everyone gets to choose whichever options work for them.

Gender (updated when new forms were released in September 2021)

Item 4 on the NOIM is Gender. It asks parties to choose whether they identify as Female, Male, or Non-binary. This item is optional. That’s new – when the Sex item was introduced in 2017, it was not optional. I am yet to have a party to a marriage opt to not record their gender, but it’s nice that the option is there.

It’s useful to note that this item is notincluded on the Official Certificates of Marriage.

Instructions for the gender field

The instructions about this item on page 2 of the NOIM state:

This item is optional. It is up to each party to the marriage to decide whether they wish to complete this item.

It is up to each party to the marriage to decide how they want to describe their gender if they choose to complete the item.

Non-binary includes ‘unspecified’ or ‘indeterminate’ and people who do not exclusively identify as either female or male.

Use of this information for marriage statistics

Unlike the Description field, I think this Gender field is useful for statistical purposes. Off the top of my head, it’s pretty interesting to see the:

  • differences in number of marriages between male couples and female couples. More female couples have married than male couple in every year since marriage equality was legislated. What does that mean?
  • proportion of marriages that are not between heterosexual couples, and how this changes over time. Are any changes in line with changes in the number of heterosexual marriages?
  • number of marriages that include at least one party who identifies as non-binary. I think over the coming years that will tell us something about the more common use of this identity in the general population. Notably, when this question asked about sex and the non-binary option was actually X, marriages involving a person who chose X were not reported on, either by including them in same-sex marriages or tabulating them separately. This was stated to be due to confidentiality reasons. This suggests to me that far more parties are selecting Non-binary than ever selected X, and that’s fascinating. It’s not up to me to guess why that might be, but it might be something for researchers to look into.

Link between gender selection and legal vows

As with the Description item, there is no link between the gender selected on the NOIM and the legal vows. People who select Female do not have to use Wife, Males do not have to use Husband, and Non-binary people do not have to use Spouse or Partner in marriage. Anyone can choose whichever option works for them.

More information

Click here for a full overview of the legal requirements of marriage in Australia.

Click on this link to find all the posts in my series about marriage legalities.

If you’re a celebrant wanting help with marriage legalities, come and join us at the Celebrant Institute!

[Originally published on 11/01/2021, updated when new forms were released in September 2021]
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