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Australia: ACT becomes first jurisdiction to allow gay marriage

Federal government plans to challenge law in court

ACT's Katy Gallagher says the threat of a high-court challenge against the gay-marriage bill won't deter her government from defending it. Credit: abc.net.au

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has become the first jurisdiction on the continent to allow gay marriage, by a tight 0ne-vote majority, with the federal government having already signalled its intention to challenge the law in high court, the Canberra Times reports

The roughly 200 people who packed ACT's single-chamber parliament rose to their feet, broke out in applause and sang "Love Is in the Air" to celebrate the bill's passage.

Earlier, during the debate on the measure, ACT chief minister Katy Gallagher said her Labor government was "prepared to challenge outdated legal notions and meet our responsibility to the people we represent to make sure each and every one of you is treated with recognition, equality and fairness before the law."

All of the present Labor MLAs were joined by the lone Greens member in the chamber in giving the gay marriage bill the thumbs-up. The Liberal opposition voted against the measure, maintaining that the issue of marriage is the domain of the federal parliament.

Liberal leader Jeremy Hanson criticized what he sees as the use of the ACT Assembly as "a vehicle to drive national agendas or social agendas," adding that his side doesn't think a "majority of one person in the ACT should change the definition of marriage for a country of over 23 million people.''

In the leadup to the Oct 22 vote, ACT's government sought advice about amending the bill to narrow its scope in a bid to protect it from being overturned in the anticipated high-court challenge.

One change to the bill, aimed at minimizing the chance that the measure would conflict with federal laws, circumvents its dependence on the argument that gay couples can't get married under the federal Marriage Act.

Another amendment covers the bill's title, which was changed from Marriage Equality Bill to Marriage Equality Same-Sex Bill, meaning that it will no longer apply to people who do not identify as either male or female.

According to Pink News, ACT's attorney-general, Simon Corbell, has said if the bill survives a court challenge, his Labor government would seek to open up its scope.

Gallagher says the threat of a high court challenge would not "rattle" her government or "deter" it from defending the measure.

With no word yet on whether the federal government would seek a court order to stop the law from taking effect, the first marriages could potentially begin in December.