December 12, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
Australia high court strikes down same-sex marriage law

Gay News, Washington Blade, Australia

Lawmakers in the Australian capital in October approved a same-sex marriage bill.

Australia’s highest court on Thursday struck down the Australian Capital Territory’s same-sex marriage law.

The Australia High Court unanimously ruled the statute that ACT lawmakers narrowly approved nearly two months ago cannot remain in effect alongside a federal law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

“Only a marriage conforming to that definition may be formed or recognized in Australia,” the decision reads. “The provisions of the ACT Act which deal with the rights of parties to marriages formed under that Act and with the dissolution of such marriages can have no valid operation.”

The Star Observer, an Australian LGBT newspaper, reported 27 gay and lesbian couples married in the ACT in which the country’s capital of Canberra is located since the same-sex marriage law took effect on Dec. 7. The Australia High Court decision nullifies these unions.

Ivan Hinton of Australian Marriage Equality married his partner, Chris Teoh, on Dec. 7.

The Associated Press reported the couple on Wednesday applied to change their last names to Hinton-Teoh once they received their marriage certificate.

“It is personally devastating that my marriage to Chris has only enjoyed legal significance for five days,” Hinton told the Washington Blade. “But our commitment to one another is lifelong and our resolve to achieving marriage equality for all Australians is only more resolute.”

Australian Marriage Equality National Director Rodney Croome further categorized the ruling as “just a temporary defeat.”

The decision said only the federal government can decide whether to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The Star Observer reported a group of Australian senators on Wednesday pledged to form what the newspaper described as a “working group” to push the issue of nuptials for gays and lesbians in the country’s Parliament. Prime Minister Tony Abbott opposes marriage rights for same-sex couples, even though his sister is a lesbian and his wife and daughters back the issue.

“We now have a clear political and constitutional path forward for marriage equality, and call on the prime minister to grant his party a free vote on the reform,” said Croome.

Amy Coopes, an Australia-based correspondent for Agence France-Presse, told the Blade that advocates remain optimistic about the prospects of marriage rights for same-sex couples in the country in spite of their obvious disappointment with the ruling.

“It ruled that the Parliament does have the power to change the Marriage Act and that gay marriage is, in effect, legal if they want it to be,” said Coopes. “Seems to be common sense, but this is the first time it’s been stated.”

Miles Heffernan, who is the features editor for the Star Observer, noted to the Blade during a telephone interview from Sydney the decision in fact opens the door to adding same-sex couples to the federal marriage law.

“So they were part very conservative, part a little bit activist,” said Heffernan.

New Zealand is among the 15 countries in which gays and lesbians can legally marry.

Same-sex couples will be able to legally marry in England and Wales on March 29. The Irish government last month announced a referendum on whether to extend marriage rights to gays and lesbians will take place in 2015.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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