Australia’s highest court has struck down a landmark law that had begun allowing the country’s first gay marriages, shattering the dreams of more than two dozen same-sex newlyweds whose marriages will now be annulled less than a week after their weddings.
The federal government had challenged the validity of the Australian Capital Territory’s (ACT) law that had allowed gay marriages in the nation’s capital and its surrounding area starting last Saturday.
For Ivan Hinton, who married his partner Chris Teoh on Saturday, the result was heartbreaking.
The couple only received their marriage certificate on Wednesday and applied to change their surnames to Hinton-Teoh.
Still, Mr Hinton said he does not regret going through with the wedding, and will always consider Mr Teoh his husband.
“This was an unprecedented and historic opportunity,” he said. “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
The federal government’s lawyer had argued that having different marriage laws in various Australian states and territories would create confusion.
The ACT, which passed the law in October, said it should stand because it governs couples outside the federal definition of marriage as being between members of the opposite sex.
However, the high court yesterday unanimously ruled that the ACT’s law could not operate concurrently with the federal marriage act, which was amended in 2004 to define marriage as 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 marriage act provides that a marriage can be solemnised in Australia only between a man and a woman,” the court said in a statement issued alongside its ruling.
“That act is a comprehensive and exhaustive statement of the law of marriage.”
Rodney Croome, national director of the advocacy group Australian Marriage Equality, said his group knows of about 30 same-sex couples who have married since Saturday, though the true number may be slightly higher. The court decision essentially nullifies their marriages, as it means the ACT law under which they were wed was invalid.
Alan Wright, who married his partner Joel Player just minutes after midnight on Saturday, said the court’s decision had inspired him to fight even harder for equality and focus his efforts on getting the federal government to change the law.
“I am now immensely proud to be part of a very unique, committed and courageous group of people, who – despite probably deep down knowing that it was going to be overturned … still stood up and said, ‘No, we’re going to do this’,” Mr Wright said.
In its decision, the court wrote that the federal government is responsible for deciding whether same-sex marriage should be legalised. The ruling means that no Australian state or territory can make that decision, said Sydney University constitutional lawyer Anne Twomey.
Lyle Shelton, managing director of Australian Christian Lobby, which opposes same-sex marriage, praised the court ruling and said common sense had prevailed.
Prime minister Tony Abbott opposes gay marriage and his coalition blocked two federal bills last year that would have allowed legal recognition of same-sex partnerships.