Australia’s first gay marriages may be invalidated

Bloomberg News

SYDNEY – Ivan Hinton married his partner of 11 years on a sunny afternoon in Canberra two days ago, surrounded by friends and family. Their union may not last past this week.

Hinton, 38, and Chris Teoh, 34, were among the first to wed after the Australian Capital Territory legalized same-sex unions on Dec. 7. The territory’s gay marriage law, the first in Australia, is under attack by Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s administration and may be ruled unconstitutional in a High Court judgment due Dec. 12.

“For the moment, we’re enjoying being in a truly inclusive society, being surrounded by people, by Canberrans, who respect our relationship and acknowledge our hopes and dreams,” Hinton, who is also the deputy director of lobby group Australian Marriage Equality, said Saturday by phone from Canberra. “There’s anxiety about whether this law is going to survive. But we sincerely hope that by Friday, we’re still married.”

Hinton and Teoh were among 20 gay couples from across the country to wed over the weekend in the territory, site of the national capital Canberra, according to AME. At least 47 same- sex weddings were scheduled before the High Court’s decision, the group said.

Abbott’s government says the ACT’s legislation contravenes the federal Commonwealth Marriage Act. While no other Australian state or territory allows such ceremonies, Tasmania recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

The Australian Christian Lobby opposes the law, with spokesman Lyle Shelton warning about “social consequences.”

“Same-sex marriage means same-sex parenting,” Shelton said in a Sky News interview broadcast on Dec. 7. “That means necessarily taking a child from its biological mother or father and giving it to someone else.”

The ACT’s move followed similar action in nations including the U.K., Canada, France and South Africa. Prime Minister David Cameron’s bill to allow same-sex marriage in England and Wales became law in July, after France passed similar legislation in May. Canada and South Africa made gay marriage legal in 2005. In the U.S., 15 states and the District of Columbia recognize same- sex unions.

Legalization by the ACT may be a “tipping point” for a national same-sex marriage law, Christine Forster, Abbott’s sister who is gay, wrote in an opinion piece published in the Canberra Times on Dec. 3.

“We need to make sure that the federal marriage act is amended,” Greens party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said at a media briefing in Canberra on Dec. 7. “It’s time that politics actually put aside the views of others and allowed couples right across this country to have their love accepted and celebrated and recognized.”

The first gay marriages took place on Dec. 7 at 12:01 a.m. Stephen Dawson, Labor party member of Western Australia state’s legislative council, and his partner Dennis Liddelow were among the first couples, tying the knot outside Parliament House in Canberra, the Canberra Times reported.

Sky News showed Telstra Tower, on Canberra’s Black Mountain, lit in sequential rainbow colors at midnight.

Hinton first asked Teoh to marry him two weeks after the couple began dating, he said. The two met on a tennis court, the same as Hinton’s own parents. He proposed six more times before Teoh agreed.

The couple, both Canberra residents, married five years ago in Montreal, even though they knew their union wouldn’t be recognized at home, he said Saturday.

“For the past five years, we’ve lived in this peculiar margin that no other Australians need to live in, where your relationship is recognized in another country but it isn’t recognized here,” Hinton said. “Yesterday was realizing that from a certain moment in time, our relationship was recognized as a marriage.”

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