The Australian Marriage Equality (AME) is calling for a federal conscience vote following a High Court’s ruling on Thursday quashing the Australian Capital Territory’s (ACT) Marriage Equality Act.

ACT enacted a same sex marriage law in October, Australia’s first state ever to pass the highly-debated legislation; but the said court ruled out its validity. The state law did not meet the provisions under the Commonwealth Law.

AME Deputy Director Ivan Hinton-Teoh and Chris Hinton-Teoh are among the first couples who got married last week in Canberra. (Photo: AME)

Twenty-seven couples from the GLTB community tied the knot in Canberra last week hoping the court will uphold their vows.  The ruling dashed their honeymoon on Thursday.

AME is now pressing for a new legislation through a conscience vote. National Director Rodney Croome said in a press release today the federal government has indicated that it is possible to legislate a new law on marriage equality through a conscience vote. He said the possibility has been indicated by Liberal leader, Malcolm Turnbull.

A separate press release also said four Liberal state premiers support the federal Coalition’s conscience vote, including Barry O’Farrell (NSW), Denis Napthine (VIC), Colin Barnett (WA) and Campbell Newman (QLD). The press release said the premiers have all urged the federal parliament to deal with the issue.

Croome added “if Coalition leaders as conservative as Colin Barnett can see the importance of a marriage equality conscience vote, Tony Abbott has no excuses”.

“With four Liberal premiers telling Abbott that community attitudes are changing and a marriage equality conscience vote is a no-brainer he’d be unwise not to listen.”

AME Deputy Director Ivan Hinton-Teoh, who married his husband, Chris Hinton-Teoh, under the overturned ACT law, said that in the absence of a timetable for federal reform the states and territories should continue to endeavour to allow same-sex couples to marry.

The federal Labor Party allows a conscience vote on marriage equality. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has earlier said a Coalition conscience vote is a matter for the Coalition party room to decide.

Ashleigh Watson and Narell Majic who got married this week comfort each other after the High Court ruling. (Photo: AME)

 ACT Government

The ACT Government is disappointed with the ruling and pledged to re-legislate for civil unions but not same-sex marriage.

The High Court cannot uphold the ACT same sex marriage law as it lacks the validity of marriage defined under Commonwealth Law.

Marriage Act of 1961 provides provision for the union of man and woman. This provision defines marriage.

Today the High Court decided unanimously that the Marriage Equality (Same Sex) Act 2013, enacted by the Legislative Assembly for the Australian Capital Territory, cannot operate concurrently with the federal Marriage Act 1961. The Court held that the federal Parliament has power under the Australian Constitution to legislate with respect to same sex marriage, and that under the Constitution and federal law as it now stands, whether same sex marriage should be provided for by law is a matter for the federal Parliament.

The Court held that “marriage” in s 51(xxi) of the Constitution refers to a consensual union formed between natural persons in accordance with legally prescribed requirements which is not only a union the law recognises as intended to endure and be terminable only in accordance with law but also a union to which the law accords a status affecting and defining mutual rights and obligations. “Marriage” in s 51(xxi) includes a marriage between persons of the same sex.

The Marriage Act does not now provide for the formation or recognition of marriage between same sex couples. The Marriage Act provides that a marriage can be solemnised in Australia only between a man and a woman and that a union solemnised in a foreign country between a same sex couple must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia. That Act is a comprehensive and exhaustive statement of the law of marriage.

Because the ACT Act does not validly provide for the formation of same sex marriages, its provisions about the rights of parties to such marriages and the dissolution of such marriages cannot have separate operation and are also of no effect.

The Court held that the whole of the ACT Act is of no effect. Read here.

State Legislations

Bills drafted on state levels should be worked out to meet the provision of the Commonwealth Law. Same-sex marriage bills have been tabled in five states but overturned. WA drafted the latest bill yesterday. At Federal level, same sex legislations have been scheduled for deliberations, but similarly voted down.

The GLTB believes the issue is now at a tipping point. It is just a matter of time while the concept of morality itself is radically shifting.

Read story with full references (links) at The Green Journal here.