THE High Court has unanimously struck down the ACT’s gay marriage laws.
The decision will mean that about two dozen week-old marriages have no legal effect.
The ACT Marriage Equality (Same Sex) laws passed the territory’s legislative assembly in October, but only came into effect last month and couples were required to provide four weeks’ notice before conducting wedding ceremonies.
As of today, about 20 couples have been married to date under the ACT’s laws, with the first ceremonies conducted on Saturday.
Had the nation’s top court upheld the ACT’s gay marriage legislation it would have opened the door to similar laws being passed across the country, pressuring the government to make it legal at a national level.
The commonwealth government sought an expedited hearing in the High Court arguing the national capital’s laws were inconsistent with federal legislation and unconstitutional.
Federal government lawyers argued in the High Court that the commonwealth marriage act was intended to ensure that state and territories did not operate as different countries when it came to determining whether a couple was married.
The High Court determined that the federal parliament has the power under the Australian constitution to legislate on same-sex marriage, and that whether or not same-sex marriages are legalised is a matter for the federal parliament.
“The Court held that the object of the ACT Act is to provide for marriage equality for same sex couples and not for some form of legally recognised relationship which is relevantly different from the relationship of marriage which federal law provides for and recognises,” the summary judgment said.
“Accordingly, the ACT Act cannot operate concurrently with the federal Act.”
It said because the ACT does not validly provide for the formation of same sex marriages, the whole of the ACT’s Marriage Equality (Same Sex) Act 2013 has no effect.
Supporters of gay marriage were dismayed at the ruling.
“This is devastating for those couples who married this week and for their families,” Australian Marriage Equality national director Rodney Croome said shortly after the decision was handed down in Canberra.
However, he said the ruling was just “a temporary defeat”.
Australian Marriage Equality spokesman Ivan Hinton was one person who took advantage of the ACT laws, marrying his partner Chris Teoh in Canberra last weekend.
“I don’t want to be unmarried this afternoon,” he told reporters outside the High Court.
The Australian Christian Lobby said the ruling upheld the uniformity of marriage laws across the country.
“Marriage between a man and a woman is good for society and beneficial for governments to uphold in legislation,” managing director Lyle Shelton said in a statement.
“It’s about providing a future for the next generation where they can be raised by their biological parents, wherever possible.” Mr Shelton was concerned for same-sex couples who thought they were married under the ACT legislation.
“Understandably they will be disappointed at the decision handed down today and it is unfortunate they were put in this position,” he said.
Human Rights Law Centre spokeswoman Anna Brown said the ruling was a blow to the same-sex couples who had tied the knot in the ACT.
“The outcome has laid responsibility for advancing marriage equality squarely at the feet of the federal parliament,” she said.
ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said her government had no regrets about pursuing marriage equality.
“We have no apologies for pursuing what we said we would go before the election,” Ms Gallagher told the ABC before the judgment was handed down.
“We are supporting our Act, it was passed through our parliament, strongly supported by the community,” she said.
“We are anxious but I think we need the judgment before we decide what our next steps are, or if indeed we need to take any next steps.”
Ms Gallagher said the focus on same sex marriage over the last few months had “continued to push the debate forward” and give it momentum.
Additional reporting: AAP