Australia Government Sues ACT Over Same-Sex Marriage Law

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government sued to overturn a day-old law allowing same-sex marriage in one of Australia’s territories.

The federal government urged the High Court to hear the case at the earliest possible date, saying in the writ of summons that uncertainty hangs over the validity of the Australian Capital Territory’s marriage act.

“I am a traditionalist,” Abbott said in a radio interview today. “From time immemorial” such a “solemnized relationship has been between a man and a woman,” he said.

Australia, which created the ACT about a century ago to host Canberra as its capital, is lagging nations that have allowed gay marriage. Ceremonies were held in New Jersey Oct. 21, hours after it became the 14th U.S. state to legalize gay marriage. New Zealand legalized same-sex marriage in April following countries such as Brazil, France, South Africa and the U.K.

The new law contradicts the federal Marriage Act by allowing the union of two adults or persons of the same sex, the federal government said. It sought a declaration from the court that the law is invalid or void and suggested both sides be ready for a hearing by Nov. 25.

Federal Attorney General George Brandis said yesterday it would be distressing to same-sex couples if they married in the territory, only to find the law invalid.

‘Causing Distress’

“The only people causing distress are the prime minister and Senator Brandis,” Simon Corbell, the attorney general for the ACT, said in a phone interview today. He called the comments “patronizing.”

There’s no need for a speedy hearing and everyone should be given reasonable time to prepare, Corbell said. Other states and territories may decide to take part in the lawsuit, with additional third parties potentially also seeking permission from the court to participate, Corbell said.

Since federation in 1901, there has existed a public interest in maintaining a uniform marriage law throughout Australia, Abbott’s government said in the writ of summons.

Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, is scheduled next week to debate in the Senate a bipartisan proposal to legalize same-sex marriage, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Federal Australian lawmakers defeated a private member’s bill to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry in September 2012, with then Prime Minister Julia Gillard joining with members of Abbott’s coalition to vote down the legislation by 98 to 42.

An Australian judge threw out a challenge to a ban on same-sex marriage in February, ruling that since neither gay men nor lesbians are allowed to marry, both sexes are treated equally under the law and there is no case of discrimination.

The case is between the Commonwealth of Australia and the Australian Capital Territory. C13/2013. High Court of Australia (Canberra).

To contact the reporter on this story: Joe Schneider in Sydney at jschneider5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Douglas Wong at dwong19@bloomberg.net

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