Australian Territory Legalizes Gay Marriage Ahead of Court Test

Same-sex marriage ceremonies became legal in an Australian territory for the first time today, as the federal government said it would quickly challenge the laws in the High Court on constitutional grounds.

“There’s no doubt that Australian society has come a long way in its understanding and acceptance of same-sex relationships,” Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said today in the Australian Capital Territory’s Legislative Assembly in Canberra. “The Australian people have moved much faster than political institutions have been able to respond.” The final bill as amended was passed eight votes to seven, the assembly’s clerk, Tom Duncan, said by phone.

Australia, which created the A.C.T. about a century ago to host Canberra as its capital, is lagging nations that have allowed gay marriage. Ceremonies were held in New Jersey yesterday, hours after it became the 14th U.S. state to legalize gay marriage, with Cory Booker, the two-term Democratic mayor who was voted to the U.S. Senate in an Oct. 16 special election, officiating for couples at City Hall in Newark.

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron in July shepherded though laws to let same-sex couples marry, following countries such as Brazil, France and South Africa.

While Gallagher said the territory’s first gay marriages were expected to be performed by the end of the year and couples from elsewhere in Australia were welcome to take part, the Liberal-National coalition federal government reiterated it will challenge the A.C.T.’s Marriage Equality Bill in court, saying it contravenes the Commonwealth Marriage Act.

‘Consistent Laws’

“Irrespective of anyone’s views on the desirability or otherwise of same-sex marriage, it is clearly in Australia’s interests that there be nationally consistent marriage laws,” Attorney-General George Brandis said in an e-mailed statement today. The federal government will ask the High Court to hold an expedited hearing, he said. Australia’s Tasmania state recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has come under criticism for holding socially-conservative beliefs, is seeking to enforce jurisdiction over the matter after the Greens party introduced same-sex legislation into the federal parliament last year that was subsequently defeated.

Abbott’s gay sister, Christine Forster, doesn’t intend to use the A.C.T. laws to marry her long-term partner as she wants to eventually hold a wedding in Sydney, she said in a Canberra Times interview published today.

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