Chief Minister Katy Gallagher. Photo: Rohan Thomson
The ACT government is risking "destroying the hope of hundreds of couples planning to wed” by refusing to make further amendments to its same-sex marriage laws, lobbyists say.
The ACT government has decided against amending its same-sex marriage law, despite several legal experts calling on it to re-word the legislation to minimise the risk it will be overturned by the High Court.
The ACT Labor caucus decided the law should remain in its current form and says it is confident it can survive the Abbott government’s High Court challenge.
The ACT government made some changes to its marriage equality bill before it was passed by the Legislative Assembly last week.
Legal advisors for Australian Marriage Equality argued more amendments were needed to create a separate status of same-sex marriage that was not inconsistent with marriage as defined by the federal marriage act.
The advocacy group reacted angrily to the government’s decision on Wednesday to proceed to the High Court without further changes, saying it was running “the risk of destroying the hope of hundreds of couples planning to wed”.
But ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell said the government had “looked very closely at the issues” and concluded “our law is sufficiently well drafted” in its current form.
Mr Corbell reiterated the government’s fears that further amendments to the law would water it down to the point that the legislation became “civil unions by another name”.
He added that the government had sought further advice from its own legal counsel and was “very confident” the law could survive the High Court challenge as drafted.
“That advice has been very clear that the amendments proposed by Australian Marriage Equality are about form rather than substance and do not add anything significant to the standing of the law and the case we are able to put the High Court,” he said.
Australian Marriage Equality deputy director Ivan Hinton said the government was ignoring extensive advice from some of Australia's most eminent constitutional legal minds and called on it to reconsider its decision.
Mr Hinton said “the minor amendments would have eliminated all potential points of conflict with the Federal Marriage Act”.
"The ACT Government's refusal to acknowledge the flaws that exist in the current legislation is remarkable considering the quality of advice that has been provided,” Mr Hinton said.
"Being the first state or territory to enact these laws we had hoped that the ACT would do everything within its authority to ensure these laws survive.
“At this stage we do not have confidence that this is the case."
University of NSW professor of law George Williams, who had advised the government to make changes to the law, said he still believed it had a good chance of surviving a High Court challenge.
“In my view, amendments could have improved the chances of the law in the High Court,’’ Professor Williams said.
“But even without those amendments I still recognise they’ve still got a good case to put to the judges.
“And I can certainly hope that they’ve done enough.’’