Australian Capital Territory Passes Same-Sex Marriage Bill

Jim Burroway

October 22nd, 2013

The Legislative Assembly of the Australian Capital Territory (pop. 373,000), home of the nation’s capital of Canberra, earlier this morning gave its approval for the Marriage Equality Same-Sex Bill. Under the new law, same-sex couples throughout Australia will be able to marry in the ACT by the end of the year. The awkwardly-named bill’s title was the result of several last-minute changes made in an attempt to head off a promised High Court challenge by the Federal Government under Tony Abbot. According to this press release from the Human Rights Law Centre and Australian Marriage Equality:

The HRLC and AME have provided the ACT Government with suggested amendments which would be easy to make and would ensure the Bill creates a new legal status of “same-sex marriage” clearly distinguishable from federal marriage. This would greatly shore up the law’s chances of surviving the High Court challenge that the Commonwealth Government has promised to mount.

At this point, it’s unclear to me what differences lie between marriage as it existed before and this new legal status of same-sex marriage. Whatever those differences may be, the Federal Government under Prime Minister Tony Abbot has already promised to launch a High Court challenge. Liberal party leaders (which is actually the conservative party in Australia) are also concern-trolling on behalf of same-sex couples:

Earlier this month, Senator Brandis said he had received advice the bill was “invalid by reason of inconsistency” with the Commonwealth Marriage Act.

“It would be very distressing to individuals who may enter into a ceremony of marriage under the new ACT law, and to their families, to find that their marriages were invalid,” a statement put out today read.

ACT Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson supports the Commonwealth’s stance.

“It would be disappointing for those individuals to then find themselves in a legal tangle,” he said.

Abbot’s sister, Christine Forster, who loves in Sydney and is engaged to her partner Virginia Edwards, welcomed the bill’s passage:

“There would have been many many couples that had been waiting for this, particularly couples that live in the ACT, and if Virginia and I were living there we would probably take advantage of this law having been passed,” Ms Forster told Sky News.

“The federal government has foreshadowed that it will challenge the law in the High Court and that casts a shadow over the long-term validity of this law.

“I hope that it stands. Ideally, however, the best outcome we could have for all Australians would be a change in the federal marriage act. Then it would be beyond question by the High Court and that’s the ultimate goal and I think that’s what everybody would like to see.”

Forster added that they will not rush to ACT to get married, but will wait until they can marry “here in our home.” She also called for her brother to allow a free conscience vote on marriage equality nationwide for the ruling coalition. Labor MPs were allowed a conscience vote last year when the question came up in the Federal Parliament.

Domestic partnership registries are currently available in New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria. Until now, ACT provided Civil Partnerships for same-sex couples, as does Queensland. In 2004, the federal Parliament amended the Marriage Act to limit marriage to one man and one woman and to prohibit the recognition of same-sex marriage from a foreign country. Other parts of Australian law over the years have been changed however to recognize same-sex couples on the federal level in areas such as taxation, pensions, health, and unemployment.

Blair Martin

October 23rd, 2013

Correction: Queensland does not offer Civil Partnerships. It did, briefly from December 2011 to June 2012, when the newly elected Liberal National Party government (a very right wing, monetarist party that had previously ruled the State for 32 years from 1958 to 1990 in a very secretive and highly corrupt manner)downgraded the Act to one of a “Relationship Register” along with flagging the repeal of the 2010 Surrogacy Act and restricting surrogacy and adoption to heterosexual couples who were married or who had been in a de facto relationship for more than two years. The LNP is the Qld arm of PM Abbott’s Liberal-National Coalition government and Federal Attorney-General George Brandis is a Senator for Queensland.
Dark days ahead….

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