The cause of same sex marriage has been set back with the High Court unanimously knocking out the ACT’s law – invalidating the unions of about 30 couples.
But the advocates of marriage equality are pushing on, with the Greens introducing a bill into federal parliament, and a cross party committee preparing to press the issue.
The decision has prompted fresh calls for government MPs to have a conscience vote. Tony Abbott has said that is a decision for the party room.
The judges said the Territory law was incompatible with the federal law, that provides that marriage is between a man and a woman.
The judgement was not unexpected, but has come as a deep disappointment to the marriage equality lobby as well as for the couples who had rushed to marry as soon as the law started to operate last Saturday.
The federal government, which strongly opposed the ACT move, had decided the High Court challenge was a better prospect for striking down the law than trying to get parliament to overturn it – a move that could have been blocked in the Senate.
If the law had been upheld, that would have given momentum to a private member’s bill in the federal parliament.
Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said the decision confirmed Labor’s view that the appropriate place for a debate on marriage equality was the federal parliament.
“Mr Abbott has prevented same-sex marriage in the ACT. The Prime Minister needs to give his MPs a conscience vote on this issue so that the national Parliament can decide.”
Mr Dreyfus said the couples who had married in the ACT had made history.
Greens spokeswoman senator Sarah Hanson-Young said: “The only way that we will be able to guarantee marriage equality across Australia is to pass reform at a federal level.”
“With a cross-party marriage group and a clear public majority calling for equality, it is only a matter of time before same-sex marriage becomes a reality nation-wide,” she said.
The cross party group, which was set up ahead of the court judgement, includes Hanson-Young, Liberal moderate senator Sue Boyce and Labor senator Louise Pratt.
The ACT government described the judgement as disappointing. ACT attorney-general Simon Corbell said Abbott should now allow a conscience vote in federal parliament.
Australian Marriage Equality National Director Rodney Croome said: "This is devastating for those couples who married this week and for their families. However, this is just a temporary defeat.“
With the cross party group and the private member’s bill "we now have clear political and constitutional path forward for marriage equality, and call on the Prime Minister to grant his party a free vote on the reform.”
The Australian Christian Lobby’s managing director Lyle Shelton said the ruling showed it was not the jurisdiction of states to legislate on marriage.
“Marriage between a man and a woman is good for society and beneficial for governments to uphold in legislation. It’s about providing a future for the next generation where they can be raised by their biological parents, wherever possible,” he said.