Australia’s first gay marriages were celebrated yesterday in the national capital, Canberra, despite the prospect of a High Court decision ruling against the unions next week.
The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) passed legislation in October which made it the only jurisdiction in the country to permit gay marriage, and more than 20 couples were set to wed there yesterday, the earliest opportunity to do so.
“This is an important day for same-sex couples and our families, but also for the nation, because today Australia is a fairer and more equal country that values love more highly,” Australian Marriage Equality’s Rodney Croome said.
The Australian Capital Territory, home to the city of Canberra and the national parliament, pressed ahead with its legislation despite warnings it was inconsistent with federal laws that do not permit same-sex weddings.
Australia’s Marriage Act defines marriage as between a man and a woman, so while same-sex civil unions are available in a majority of Australian states these couples are not formally recognized as married by the government.
The federal government is therefore challenging the validity of the Australian Capital Territory legislation in the High Court and a ruling is due on Thursday.
The ACT government has said it is confident its law is strong enough to prevail, but has admitted the legal challenge could have implications for those couples who choose to wed.
“Regardless of what happens in the High Court, the significance of this moment will remain and send a strong signal about what a contemporary 21st century Australia should look like,” ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell said.
Federal parliament last year voted down laws allowing same-sex marriage when conservative members opposed the move as a block after Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott denied them a conscience vote on the issue.
In April New Zealand became the first Asia-Pacific country to legalize gay marriage.