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Same-sex weddings begin in Australia, but marriages could be short lived

Friday, December 6, 2013
Rob Griffith, APWestern Australian politician Stephen Dawson, right, gives his husband Dennis Liddelow a kiss after they married in front of Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013.

Rob Griffith, AP
Western Australian politician Stephen Dawson, right, gives his husband Dennis Liddelow a kiss after they married in front of Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013.

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

Stephen Dawson, a 38-year-old member of the opposition Labor Party in the Western Australian Parliament, and partner Dennis Liddelow, 39, flew 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles) across Australia to be among the first gay couples to marry in ceremonies in the national capital Canberra on Saturday – 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 Thursday on a federal government challenge to the validity of the Australian Capital Territory 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 twice rejected 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 12:04 a.m.

Three security guards were on hand to ensure that 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 that the High Court sees fit to allow these laws to stay,” he added.

Earlier, Dawson said he and his partner decided that 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 iconic Tel stra Tower was illuminated with sequential rainbow colors from midnight to mark the first same-sex weddings.

The tower provided a colorful 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 12:04 a.m. mark, and he didn’t care.

“I’m proud to be part of the first couples married in Canberra,” said Wright, a 34-year-old 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, on Saturday afternoon. The couple wed in Montreal, Canada, five years ago, but the marriage is not recognized 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 realize 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 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia.

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14 more reader comments:

  1. Congratulation ¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 3:39pm
  2. Congratulation

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 3:47pm
  3. It’s a happy day from Down Under!!! Congrats guys, I’m so happy for you all:)

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 3:58pm
  4. Our theological bblical intolerant christian PM sent the law straight to the high court. Chances are 50 / 50.

    Replied on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 10:40pm
  5. Short lived then why start it, something els to take the piss out gay,bi,lesbian people I supose, what the hell

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 3:59pm
  6. They're hoping it lasts longer than that, and even if not, getting a foot in the door will help if someone tries to shut it.

    Replied on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 10:00pm
  7. Many of us here support it - and the more our intolerant christian PM opposes equal rights, the more likely he will be thrown out next time.

    Replied on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 10:41pm
  8. Unless I understand wrongly, soz

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 4:02pm
  9. Take the opportunity while you have it!

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 4:04pm
  10. Great, good on!

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 5:08pm
  11. best of luck to both of you…..muwah muwah muwah…..

    Posted on Saturday, December 7, 2013 at 12:31am
  12. Vote to bring itAustralis wide congratulatipns

    Posted on Saturday, December 7, 2013 at 1:34am
  13. Sadly we have a heartless, dispassionate, intolerant, mean spirited, inhumane Federal Government in Australia that is run by fundamentalist Christians that is way out of control. We can only hope that the High Court of Australia rules in favour of the ACT law.

    Posted on Saturday, December 7, 2013 at 3:24am
  14. Congratulations ACT

    Posted on Saturday, December 7, 2013 at 4:12am