Australian High Court ruling means same-sex marriages in ACT will be annulled

Dublin-born politician among first to marry after gay marriages were briefly legalised

The honeymoon was short-lived for Australia's gay couples who married in the past five days after the High Court overturned new same-sex marriage laws on Thursday (Dec 12), invalidating wedding ceremonies performed since Saturday (Dec 7).


Same-sex couples who married in Australia’s capital Canberra since last Saturday will have their marriages annulled after the High Court ruled against the law change which allowed it.

The law had only been valid in the Australian Capital Territory (or ACT – consisting of the city of Canberra and some surrounding areas), but after a challenge from the federal government, the High Court unanimously ruled the laws were inconsistent with the federal marriage Act, and therefore unconstitutional.

A total of 27 same-sex couples had married under the territory government law after it came into effect last weekend.

Dublin-born Stephen Dawson, a Labor MP in Western Australia, and his partner Dennis Liddelow were the first couple to marry, moments after the law came into effect on Saturday, in a ceremony outside the federal parliament in Canberra.

Civil union
“Dennis and I actually had a civil union in Ireland a few years ago. But a civil union is not marriage and a civil union in Ireland is not a marriage in Australia,” he said.

Their Australian marriage has only lasted five days.

“I am disappointed for me and Dennis. I’m disappointed for thousands of people who hoped this was the start of the normalisation of their relationships, but the journey continues. This won’t be the end of it,” said Mr Dawson.

The High Court ruling said any change to marriage legislation must come from the federal government.

“The marriage Act does not now provide for the formation or recognition of marriage between same-sex couples,” the court said in a summary of its judgment. “The court held that the whole of the ACT Act is of no effect.”

The ACT government had argued that its laws were compatible with the federal legislation because it had defined a different type of marriage between same-sex couples.

Constitutional lawyer Anne Twomey says the verdict sends the issue back to the federal parliament.

“I think most people would not want to turn our system into the American Supreme Court, where all decisions on social issues are ending up in the [Australian] High Court,” she told ABC radio.

“It’s much better that the elected representatives of the people are the ones who get to decide on those sorts of issues. That’s the appropriate forum for this, not the High Court.”

The Australian Christian Lobby welcomed the High Court ruling.

“Marriage between a man and a woman is good for society and beneficial for governments to uphold in legislation,” its managing director Lyle Shelton said.

“It’s about providing a future for the next generation where they can be raised by their biological parents, wherever possible.”