by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Australia's High Court struck down a territorial law allowing Gay and Lesbian couples to marry, and ruled that same-sex marriages performed so far are annulled. Their decision was announced December 12.
Australia's Capital Territory, which includes Canberra, the country's capital, passed a law in September allowing same-sex couples to marry. The law went into effect on December 7, but it had already been appealed to the country's High Court.
In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that the federal parliament - not state and territorial authorities - had the right to legislate about marriage, and whether the right was extended to same-sex couples.
'The Marriage Act does not now provide for the formation or recognition of marriage between same-sex couples,' the court said.
'That Act is a comprehensive and exhaustive statement of the law of marriage,' it added.
'Under the constitution and federal law as it now stands, whether same-sex marriage should be provided for by law is a matter for the federal parliament.'
The decision means that the 27 couples who have married in Canberra since the law came into effect will have their marriages annulled as unconstitutional.
Outside the court building, equality supporters wept when the court decision was announced.
Ivan Hinton told reporters on scene that it was 'personally devastating' to have his marriage to partner Chris Teoh struck down.
'In less than a week we've been married and we've been unmarried, at least on a legal level,' he told BBC reporters as he fought back tears.
'We're still married. I've made commitments to Chris to spend the rest of my life with him, through sickness and through health, in the good times and in the bad. Today's not particularly good.'
In spite of the emotional toll on couples whose marriages have now been annulled, veteran LGBT rights activist Rodney Croome said the case represented major progress.
'Although there's been a defeat for marriage equality in the High Court today, this week we've seen a much greater victory,' Mr Croome told Associated Press.
'For the first time ever same-sex couples have married on Australian soil. That has been a huge step forward and one from which there is no return.'
Instead of 'protests or politics, or even laws and the constitution', Croome said, the passage of new marriage laws in the Capital Territory showed that same-sex marriage was about 'love, commitment, family and fairness.'
The ruling also gave activists a clear path forward, Croome added, putting the ball squarely in the parliament's court, and affirming 'for the first time ever' that lawmakers 'definitely' had the power to make same-sex marriage legal.
'Many people had assumed that until now, but it has never been declared by the court,' he said.
While the court decision might clarify who is responsible for passing marriage legislation, there seems little chance that a marriage equality bill will make it through Australia's parliament any time soon.
Conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott, whose party won this year's parliamentary election, campaigned against same-sex marriage. Even within the opposition Labor Party, which officially supports equality, powerful members - including former Prime Minister Julia Gillard - oppose it.
A marriage equality bill introduced in 2012, when Labor controlled parliament, failed by a vote of 98 to 42, with Prime Minister Gillard voting against it.
Public opinion, on the other hand, has been trending in favor of equality. An August 2013 poll found that 65% of respondents supported legalizing same-sex marriage, up 8 points since December 2011, while only 28% were opposed (down 7 points).
Support was greater among women (75%) than men (55%), and greater among younger voters than older voters.
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