The ACT has been declared the “rainbow territory’’ after the Legislative Assembly passed a bill to establish Australia’s first same-sex marriage scheme.
To thunderous applause from the public gallery, the single-chamber Parliament voted to approve a marriage equality law by eight votes to seven on Tuesday.
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ACT Parliament legalises same-sex marriage in an emotion-filled day, with gays and lesbians celebrating the new law.
Under the law, same-sex couples from across Australia will be able to marry in Australia by the end of the year.
The federal government plans to challenge the constitutionality of the bill in the High Court of Australia.
Deputy Chief Minister Andrew Barr, who is gay, said the law would help transform many lives and Canberra into a “rainbow territory’’ or “city of love’’.
"It marks an important step in our journey to become the most LGBTI [lesbian, gay, transgender and intersex friendly] city in Australia,’’ Mr Barr said.
“Whether it's the rainbow territory, the city of love, it's an important journey for us. I have no doubt that this reform will transform many lives.''
Mr Barr choked back tears during the debate as he discussed the struggles faced by gay and lesbian people, their families and supporters.
The bill was supported by all eight Labor MLAs and Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury.
The eight Liberals MLAs opposed it, arguing that marriage laws were a federal issue.
The assembly agreed to a series of amendments designed to reduce the chances of the law being struck down by the High Court. Some marriage-equality supporters believe further amendments were needed to further strengthen the bill from a challenge.
Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said the threat of a High Court challenge will not deter the government from proceeding with the establishment of a local same-sex scheme.
"That should not deter us, it doesn't rattle us and it doesn't change our path,’’ she said.
Ms Gallagher said marriage equality was necessary to end discrimination against same-sex couples.
"It's a proud day for the government and I know for many across our community,'' she said.
"We on this side of the chamber are prepared to challenge outdated legal notions and meet our responsibilities to the people we represent, to make sure that each and every one of you is treated with recognition, equality and fairness before the law.
High Court awaits same-sex marriage legislation
According to constitutional law expert Professor George Williams, the legal challenge to the ACT marriage equality legislation will be a question of federalism not human rights.
"These are the principles that have brought us into government, they're the principles the community holds dear, they're the principles of ACT Labor and they are the principles of this bill.''
Liberal Leader Jeremy Hanson said same-sex marriage was not a matter that should be debated by the ACT legislature.
"We believe that this issue belongs in the Commonwealth Parliament,'' Mr Hanson said.
"It is a federal issue and there are a wide-range of sound legal opinions that support that position.''
Mr Hanson questioned whether amendments to be moved by Attorney-General Simon Corbell would ensure the bill was constitutional.
"It is a leap of faith now to accept Simon Corbell's assurances that the amendments will make this bill lawful when he's spent the last few weeks arguing against the need for any such amendments.
"The Canberra Liberals have a different view about the role of the ACT Legislative Assembly to the Labor Party and the Greens.
"We do not see the ACT Assembly as a vehicle to drive national agendas or social agendas, whereas the Labor Party and the Greens do. We are Labor's smallest parliament in a small jurisdiction and we do not think a majority of one person in the ACT should change the definition of marriage for a country of over 23 million people.''
Mr Rattenbury said the law would put an end to a form of discrimination against same-sex attracted people.
"This is the beginning of governments in Australia saying 'no' to the historical institutionalised discrimination that relegates same-sex couples to a second-class status.
"Denying equal marriage rights to same-sex couples is an affront to human rights which says, 'you're not allowed to express or formalise your love in the same way as other couples in our society'.
"From today, through the passage of this bill, the ACT puts an end to this form of discrimination.''