Aussie law in a knot as gay cou­ples tie the knot

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - WORLD - ROD McGUIRK

CAN­BERRA: A state law­maker and his part­ner dressed in match­ing suits and ties, em­braced and kissed in front of Aus­tralia’s Par­lia­ment House early yes­ter­day in one of the na­tion’s first same- sex mar­riages.

Stephen Daw­son, a 38-yearold mem­ber of the op­po­si­tion La­bor Party in the Western Aus­tralian Par­lia­ment, and part­ner Den­nis Lid­de­low, 39, flew 3 500km across Aus­tralia to be among the first gay cou­ples to marry in cer­e­monies in the na­tional cap­i­tal, Can­berra, yes­ter­day – the ear­li­est op­por­tu­nity un­der the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment’s land­mark gay mar­riage laws.

But Aus­tralia’s first gay mar­riages could be short-lived, with the High Court to rule on Thurs­day on a fed­eral gov­ern­ment chal­lenge to the va­lid­ity of the Aus­tralian Cap­i­tal Ter­ri­tory (ACT) law.

Fed­eral law states that mar­riage can be only be­tween a man and a woman. The gov­ern­ment ar­gued in Aus­tralia’s high­est court that the ACT law con­tra­dicted that.

Bills to change fed­eral law to al­low gay mar­riage were re­jected twice by par­lia­ment last year, and Prime Min­is­ter Tony Ab­bott was elected in Septem­ber on a plat­form of op­pos­ing mar­riage equal­ity.

Daw­son and Lid­de­low’s mar­riage, con­ducted by a cel­e­brant be­fore a small group of friends and fam­ily, be­came of­fi­cial at 12.04am.

Three se­cu­rity guards were on hand to en­sure the wed­ding party main­tained an ap­pro­pri­ate dis­tance from par­lia­ment’s front en­trance.

“I’m just very, very happy,” a tear­ful Daw­son said af­ter the cer­e­mony.

“I hope the high court sees fit to al­low th­ese laws to stay,” he added.

Ear­lier, Daw­son said he and his part­ner de­cided they didn’t have a mo­ment to lose be­fore mar­ry­ing.

“We don’t know how long we’ve got in the sense that the high court might over­rule the laws next week, so we thought: ‘Let’s do it straight away and let’s have the max­i­mum amount of time be­ing mar­ried’,” he said.

Can­berra’s Tel­stra Tower was il­lu­mi­nated with se­quen­tial rain­bow colours from mid­night to mark the first same-sex wed­dings.

The tower pro­vided a colour­ful back­drop for Alan Wright’s cer­e­mony when he wed his 30- year- old part­ner, Joel Player, on an is­land in Can­berra’s cen­tral Lake Bur­ley Grif­fin af­ter mid­night.

He wasn’t sure whether his mar­riage was be­fore or af­ter the 12.04am mark – and he didn’t care.

“I’m proud to be part of the first cou­ples mar­ried in Can­berra,” said Wright, a 34-yearold civil ser­vant.

Wright hopes that even if the High Court rules against gay mar­riage, the judges will al­low all mar­riages con­ducted be­fore their de­ci­sion to stand.

But Syd­ney Univer­sity con­sti­tu­tional lawyer Anne Twomey said that wasn’t a pos­si­bil­ity.

She said there was a range of po­ten­tial out­comes for the court chal­lenge. It could rule that no state or ter­ri­tory could leg­is­late for gay mar­riage, or that the ACT alone could do so.

If the court ruled that the law can sur­vive with amend­ments, Twomey could not say whether the mar­riages this weekend would be le­gal, or if the cou­ples would have to marry again af­ter the leg­is­la­tion was amended.

Sharyn Gunn, the cel­e­brant who mar­ried Wright and Player, said same-sex cou­ples she had spo­ken to were evenly di­vided be­tween those who wanted to get mar­ried as soon as pos­si­ble and those who wanted to wait un­til af­ter the court de­ci­sion.

Un­der the ACT leg­is­la­tion, cou­ples have to give 30 days’ no­tice of their in­ten­tion to marry.

The ad­vo­cacy group Aus­tralian Mar­riage Equal­ity said at least 20 same-sex cou­ples are mar­ry­ing in Can­berra this weekend, in­clud­ing its deputy di­rec­tor, Ivan Hin­ton.

Hin­ton, 38, is mar­ry­ing his Malaysian- born Aus­tralian part­ner Chris Teoh, 35, this af­ter­noon. The cou­ple wed in Mon­treal, Canada, five years ago, but the mar­riage is not recog­nised un­der Aus­tralian law.

Hin­ton said he never con­sid­ered wait­ing for the cer­tainty of the high court de­ci­sion be­fore ty­ing the knot again.

“It would only be worse for us to re­alise that we’d had an op­por­tu­nity and we’d missed it,” Hin­ton said.

Gay mar­riage has le­gal recog­ni­tion in 18 coun­tries as well as 16 US states plus the Dis­trict of Columbia. – Sa­paAP

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