The country's federal government had challenged the month-old law in the territory, which houses the seat of Australia's government in the national capital of Canberra. The territory has its own internal regional government, but does not have full legislative independence like other states in Australia.
The High Court, analogous to the U.S. Supreme Court, ruled December 12 that the territory's Marriage Equality Act, passed in October, conflicted with the nation's 1961 Federal Marriage Act, amended in 2004 to define marriage as only between a man and a woman. “The Marriage Act does not now provide for the formation or recognition of marriage between same sex couples,” the High Court said in a summary of its ruling. “The Marriage Act provides that a marriage can be solemnized in Australia only between a man and a woman and that a union solemnized in a foreign country between a same sex couple must not be recognized as a marriage in Australia. That Act is a comprehensive and exhaustive statement of the law of marriage.”
The court had held that “the object of the ACT Act is to provide for marriage equality for same sex couples and not for some form of legally recognized relationship which is relevantly different from the relationship of marriage which federal law provides for and recognizes. Accordingly, the ACT Act cannot operate concurrently with the federal Act.”
In its ruling, the high court emphasized that only the federal parliament had the authority under Australia's constitution to pass a law legalizing homosexual marriage.
The decision means that the more than two dozen homosexual couples who had married in Canberra after the measure went into effect earlier in December will find their nuptials annulled. “This is devastating for those couples who married this week and for their families,” said Rodney Croome of the homosexual activist group Australian Marriage Equality. He vowed, however, that the ruling represented “just a temporary defeat.”
In a statement from the group, Croome twisted the defeat for same-sex marriage into a victory for gays and lesbians, declaring that it forced the Australian people to see what “is really at the core of this issue ... that marriage equality is not about protest or politics or even about laws in the constitution, ultimately. Marriage equality is about love, commitment, family, and fairness.”
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