The Australian High Court ruled against the new gay marriage law introduced by the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) because it was not in accordance with the federal definition of marriage.
The high court unanimously ruled that the ACT’s law could not operate in opposition to the federal Marriage Act, which was amended in 2004 to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
On Saturday, December 7, dozens of gay couples flocked to Canberra to exchange wedding vows. Now, those marriages have been declared invalid.
Deputy Director of Australian Marriage Equality, Ivan Hinton, who married long-term partner Chris Teoh on Saturday, said that the ruling was “personally devastating” but he still considers Teoh his husband.
“This was an unprecedented and historic opportunity,” he said. “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
There was a large gathering outside the High Court as the ruling took place, from both religious non-supporters and the marriage equality advocates.
The Guardian reported that upon hearing the news, one “euphoric” woman walked around saying, “God bless Australia, hallelujah …God is love; God is love.” In response, a number of gay rights activists asked her why she was so joyous at the revocation of a law that celebrated love. (Her response was not reported.)
The Australian Christian Lobby’s managing director, Lyle Shelton, who actively opposes same-sex marriage, expressed his sympathy for those who were briefly married: “I think it’s really sad for those people who have taken the decision over the weekend. It is unfortunate for them and I do feel for them.”
There have been ten attempts in the past few years to legalize same-sex marriage in Australia; Shelton, who has said that children’s rights should be considered over that of adults, claimed he was concerned that the law would be changed out of “fatigue” more than anything else.
Gay rights activists were disappointed by the ruling but also conveyed hope that this was a stepping-stone towards legalizing marriage equality for good.
The national convener of Australian Marriage Equality, Rodney Croome, said that the ACT marriages were a “huge step forward, from which there is no return.”
Currently civil unions are allowed in several states in Australia, but same-sex marriage remains illegal.
Nearby New Zealand passed a bill in favor of marriage equality in April 2013.