The federal government will move quickly to try to quash the ACT's historic same-sex marriage laws in the High Court, despite appeals from Prime Minister Tony Abbott's own sister for the Liberal Party to create a national law in favour of gay marriage.
Attorney-General George Brandis said on Tuesday he would ask for an expedited hearing in the High Court - in part to minimise any ''distress'' that the hundreds of gay couples expected to marry in the national capital from mid-December onwards might experience if the court sides with the Commonwealth.
ACT Legislative Assembly debates same sex marriage bill
Lyn Griggs, Ainslie. Photo: Rohan Thomson
''It would be very distressing to individuals who may enter into a ceremony of marriage under the new ACT law, and to their families, to find that their marriages were invalid. In that context, the government will request the High Court to give the case an expedited hearing,'' a spokeswoman for Senator Brandis said.
The government said its crusade against the laws enacted by the territory government was about ensuring ''nationally consistent marriage laws''.
Senator Brandis has advice from the acting Commonwealth Solicitor-General that the ACT's Marriage Equality legislation is invalid because it is inconsistent with the Commonwealth Marriage Act. Expert advice obtained by the Tasmanian and NSW governments suggests the states can make their own laws on allowing same sex couples to marry.
Illustration: Ron Tandberg.
Mr Abbott faces pressure from within his own family to deliver a nationally consistent law but one that will allow same-sex couples across the country to marry without having to travel to the ACT and face the prospect that their union could be rendered null and void.
The Prime Minister's sister, Christine Forster, a Liberal councillor in Sydney, revealed this week that she was engaged to her long-term partner Virginia Edwards.
She called for federal Liberal MPs to be allowed to vote with their consciences on the issue.
Ms Forster said: ''It's my firm belief, and I'm a Liberal, that marriage is a matter for conscience. It's about love and emotions and commitments and relationships. I think it's a conscience issue, not a policy issue, and I really hope that's the way the discussion goes in the federal party room when it does come up.''
A bloc ''no'' vote by Liberals, which happened the last time Federal Parliament voted on same-sex marriage, would doom any new bill.
Mr Abbott does not expect a vote on the issue in this Parliament but has promised to allow the party room to decide on which direction to take - a conscience or bloc vote.
A jubilant ACT Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher, rejected a request by Senator Brandis to delay bringing the new laws into effect until the High Court can determine their validity.
''I don't believe this bill in any way challenges, diminishes or undermines the religion or faith of any individual. If we are to be judged by a higher being on this law, then let it be so,'' she said.
Ms Gallagher's deputy, Andrew Barr, who is gay, broke down in tears during debate on the bill.
''The sacrifice, the suffering, the struggle and the tireless exertions and passionate concern of gay and lesbian Canberrans, their parents and their families finds a voice and finds a champion in this assembly,'' he said, and dubbed the ACT Australia's ''rainbow territory''.
Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus told ABC 24 he didn't believe the same-sex marriage laws were a constitutional issue that should be decided by the High Court.
''It's a political debate. I think that what George Brandis and Tony Abbott are doing here is a diversion and the proper place for this to be debated is in fact the Federal Parliament,'' he said.