First Gay Marriages Held in Australia's Capital as High Court Ruling Looms

Couples from around the country held same-sex wedding ceremonies in Australia's capital Saturday, celebrating as the Australian Capital Territory's Marriage Equality Act took effect for the first time. But the festivities may prove short-lived — as soon as this Thursday, the Australian High Court is due to rule on whether the act contradicts federal law, and there's a chance that the gay marriages held between now and then will be annulled.

According to the national director of the advocacy group Australian Marriage Equality, at least 25 gay and lesbian couple are planning on getting married in Canberra this weekend, and it's expected that more same-sex couples will join last minute as well.

"I understand that the High Court is an issue and we will deal with that on Thursday but it can't overshadow that Chris and I woke up this morning knowing that our community respects us for who we are, has the same respect for our relationship and has the same hopes as we do for our future," the group's deputy director, Ivan Hinton, told AFP shortly after getting married to his partner Chris Teoh.

There's an added worry. Even if the High Court doesn't overturn the law, the Federal Parliament still has the authority to add separate legislation that would get rid of it some other way. As recently as last year, Australia's Parliament rejected gay marriage legislation twice, and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been dead set against same-sex marriage since the get-go — in spite of his sister, a gay councillor from Sydney, publicly pushing for him to hold a conscience vote on the issue.

On Saturday, the Australian Christian Lobby, an unsurprisingly fierce opponent of gay marriage, called on the public to think of what marriage equality means for kids. "We hear about equal love all the time but we don't hear about what it means for children," the group's spokesman Lyle Shelton said cryptically.

In October, the Australian Capital Territory became the only and first part of the country to legalize gay marriage, after its parliament passed a bill allowing same-sex couples to marry inside the territory, no matter what state they live in. The legislation took effect today, December 7th. "There is no longer any excuse, if there ever was, to discriminate against same-sex couples in our community," ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said at the time. "They are our children, our parents, our brothers, our sisters, our leaders, our business people, our mentors and our colleagues. More than anything, they are our equals. The Marriage Equality Act puts this fundamental principle and human right into law."

But because federal law was amended back in 2004 to specify that marriage "means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life," and that "certain unions are not marriages," the government was quick to challenge the move, and took the legality of the legislation to the High Court. The ruling is due on Thursday, December 12.

Luckily, that hasn't stopped some hopefuls.

"We don't know how long we've got in the sense that the High Court might overrule the laws next week, so we thought: `let's do it straight away and let's have the maximum amount of time being married,'"said one member of the opposition Labor Party, who flew across the country Saturday in order to be one of the first gay couples to get be legally married in Australia.

[Image via ABC]