Honeymoon Cut Short: Court Overturns Australia’s First Same-Sex Marriage Law

December 12, 2013 - 5:22 AM

same-sex marriage

Chris Teoh and Ivan Hinton were one of dozens of same-sex couples who were married in Canberra on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, taking advantage of the Australia Capital Territory’s new law. Five days later the High Court has overturned it. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

(CNSNews.com) – Australia’s High Court on Thursday overturned the country’s first same-sex marriage legislation, just five days after it came into effect.

The law, applicable only in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) – Canberra and the surrounding area – was passed by the ACT legislature in October, and the federal government brought an immediate challenge, saying it was inconsistent with federal law.

“Whether same sex marriage should be provided for by law is a matter for the federal parliament,” it said. “The Marriage Act does not now provide for the formation or recognition of marriage between same-sex couples.”

The Marriage Act, a law dating back to 1961, was amended in 2004 to define marriage explicitly as a union between a man and a woman. That step was taken after Australians who had solemnized same-sex marriages in Canada earlier sought to have Australian court declare their unions valid and legal in their home country.

Same-sex marriage proponents were frustrated last September when the federal parliament defeated a bill that would have allowed homosexuals and lesbians to marry. Both then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard of the center-left Labor Party and center-right opposition leader – now Prime Minister – Tony Abbott opposed the bill.

The then-ruling Labor party also allowed its members a “conscience vote,” meaning they were not expected to follow a party position. The measure failed by a 98-42 vote.

After the ACT law came into effect last weekend about two dozen same-sex couples got married. Now the High Court has ruled their unions legally invalid.

The lobby group Australia Marriage Equality called the ruling “devastating for those couples who married this week and for their families” but also said it was “just a temporary defeat.”

“What is far more important is that the ACT’s law facilitated the first same-sex marriage on Australian soil and showed the nation the love and commitment of same-sex couples,” said the group’s national director, Rodney Croome. “The marriages in the ACT prove that this reform is not about politics, but about love, commitment, and fairness.”

Last month a bill similar to the ACT one was narrowly defeated in the upper house of the state legislature in New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state.

With the state- and territory-level defeats, activists are planning a new push at a federal level. On Thursday the Australian Greens launched a fresh bid to legalize same-sex marriage nationally, introducing a bill in the federal Senate.

“The only way that we will be able to guarantee marriage equality across Australia is to pass reform at a federal level,” said the party’s spokesperson on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex issues, Sen. Sarah Hanson-Young.

“Australia, as a nation, is ready for this and it’s time the federal parliament recognized that,” she said.

Australian Christian Lobby managing director Lyle Shelton welcomed the High Court decision, saying it was “important for marriage laws to continue to be administered federally.”

“Marriage between a man and a woman is good for society and beneficial for governments to uphold in legislation. It’s about providing a future for the next generation where they can be raised by their biological parents, wherever possible,” he said.

Earlier this year New Zealand became the first country in the Asia-Pacific to pass legislation legalizing same-sex marriages. Croome observed at the time that Australians unable to marry same-sex partners at home may travel there – “marriage equality [is] now just three hours away by plane.”

Statistics released by New Zealand authorities in early November showed that 117 same-sex couples had got married since the first such union in August, and that more than one-third of them were foreigners.