The High Court of Australia -- that nation's supreme judicial authority -- struck down the country's first marriage equality law today and invalidated the marriages of at least 30 same-sex couples who wed during the five days when it was in place.
The Australian Capital Territory, an independent jurisdiction similar to Washington, D.C., passed a landmark freedom-to-marry bill in October. It went into effect on Saturday, December 7, and since then, couples from across the continent have flocked to Canberra to legally marry.
But their jubilation turned into heartbreak today. The High Court ruled unanimously that ACT's marriage law conflicted with the federal Marriage Act, which was amended in 2004 to exclude same-sex couples from marriage. The AP reports:
"The Marriage Act does not now provide for the formation or recognition of marriage between same sex couples. The Marriage Act provides that a marriage can be solemnised in Australia only between a man and a woman," the court said in a statement issued alongside its ruling. "That Act is a comprehensive and exhaustive statement of the law of marriage."
Rodney Croome, national director of the advocacy group Australian Marriage Equality, said his group knows of about 30 same-sex couples who have married since Saturday, though the actual number may be slightly higher. The court decision essentially nullifies their marriages, as it means the ACT law under which they were wed was invalid...
In its decision, the court wrote that the federal government is responsible for deciding whether same-sex marriage should be legalized. The ruling means that no Australian state or territory can make that decision, said Sydney University constitutional lawyer Anne Twomey.
According to the Canberra Times, some couples wept silently in the courtroom as the verdict was read.
After the ruling, members of the ACT government challenged the federal government and anti-equality Prime Minister Tony Abbott to do the right thing for LGBT Aussies. Again, the Canberra Times:
ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher says marriage equality is now "firmly at the feet" of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and every federal MP.
Ms Gallagher threw the challenge down to Mr Abbott on Thursday after the High Court overturned the ACT law. "This is not a campaign he can avoid," Ms Gallagher said. "Over to you, Mr Abbott".
ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell said that Prime Minister Tony Abbott should now allow a conscience vote on same-sex marriages in the Federal Parliament. "Now is the time for a national debate on this issue as we witnessed the joy of those couples that have been married since Saturday, when the first weddings took place under the ACT Government's law," Mr Corbell said.
ACT Greens Member for Molonglo, Shane Rattenbury has called on the Federal Government to now legislate for an end to marriage discrimination after the High Court has ruled the ACT's Marriage Equality Bill unlawful. "Today's ruling from the High Court was about legal technicalities - it was not about the morality, the common sense or the human importance of ending marriage discrimination," said Mr Rattenbury.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the only way to guarantee marriage equality across Australia was to pass reform at a federal level. "Australia, as a nation, is ready for this and it's time the Federal Parliament recognised that," she said.
This a sad day in the Land Down Under, particularly for the couples whose marriages have been forcibly dissolved. Below is a video clip depicting one such marriage. While it takes on a tinge of heartbreak in light of today's news, the video quite rightly notes that in the end, love will win.