Australian court rejects law allowing gay marriage

Gay SexChris Teoh and Ivan Hinton were among the first gay couples to wed in the country. (AP)

Australia's highest court struck down a landmark law on Thursday that had begun allowing the country's first gay marriages, shattering the dreams of more than two dozen same-sex newlyweds whose marriages will now be annulled less than a week after their weddings.

The federal government had challenged the validity of the Australian Capital Territory's law that had allowed gay marriages in the nation's capital and its surrounding area starting last Saturday.

For Ivan Hinton, who married his partner Chris Teoh on Saturday, the result was heartbreaking. The couple just received their marriage certificate on Wednesday and immediately applied to change their surnames to Hinton-Teoh. Still, Hinton said he doesn't regret going through with the wedding, and will always consider Teoh his husband.

"This was an unprecedented and historic opportunity,'' he said. "I wouldn't have missed it for the world.''

The federal government's lawyer had argued that having different marriage laws in various Australian states and territories would create confusion. The ACT, which passed the law in October, said it should stand because it governs couples outside the federal definition of marriage as being between members of the opposite sex.

The High Court unanimously ruled that the ACT's law could not operate concurrently with the federal Marriage Act, which was amended in 2004 to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

"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.

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