Who doesn’’t want teens forming committed relationships?…

Meet the Australian Family Association

The Australian Family Association has called a teenage couple’s plans for a commitment ceremony early next month ‘deplorable’.

The two teens, Jenni Birch (16) and Alex Stewart-Pole (19), of Brisbane, plan to be handfasted in a traditional Pagan ceremony. Their hands will be bound together with cord as they vow to be true to each other for a year and a day in front of friends and family. Jenni’s mother, Pagan priestess Sue Birch, will officiate at the ceremony.

Paganism is a nature worshipping pre-Christian belief ranked as the seventh largest religion in the US. Around 30,000 Australians identified as following a Pagan or nature-based faith in the 2006 Census.

But with no discernible trace of irony, the Australian Family Association’s John Morrissey said today: “If such mock weddings lead to consummation and some status as a common law wedding, there is something wrong,” he said.

John Morrissey is apparently unaware that handfastings have a long tradition in Britain and Europe – the custom of binding the hands of bride and groom is older than Christian marriage rituals, and the origin of the expression “tying the knot.”

Pagan Awareness Network President David Garland responded: “The Australian Family Association is saying it doesn’t want a young couple to formalise their existing living arrangements – in effect it would prefer they continue to ‘live in sin’,” he said. “The year-and-a-day handfasting is an accepted part of Pagan practice. It is an ideal way to help young people still learning about physical and emotional intimacy understand the importance of commitment. When the year is up they can elect to go their separate ways, continue to renew their vows each year, or even handfast for life if that is what they want.”

The year-and-a-day ceremony is not recognised as a legal marriage by the government. Handfastings-for-life, however, are recognised as legally-binding ceremonies by the Commonwealth of Australia when they are performed by a licensed Marriage Celebrant.

Christian politician Fred Nile, who is a little behind the times, has vowed to: “stop pagan weddings and witchcraft or Wicca activities”, saying “(Handfasting) can’t be in any way acknowledged by the state…”

The Pagan Awareness Network now wants to know whether the Australian Family Association and Fred Nile are against all non-Christian marriage ceremonies, or just Pagan ceremonies.

A short article explaining the form and significance of Handfasting can be found here.

David Garland
PAN Inc President

PAN Inc Media Officer

The Pagan Awareness Network Incorporated Australia (PAN Inc) is a not-for-profit educational association with members Australia-wide. It has no formal ties with any religious body, but works in a proactive fashion, both within the Pagan community and as a point of contact for the public, including government and media organisations.