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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.

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Prime Minister Tony Abbott's sister says she hopes the ACT's same-sex marriage laws survive an impending High Court challenge by the Abbott government.

Christine Forster, who revealed this week she was engaged to her long-term partner Virginia Edwards, said the Sydney-based couple would wait until they were legally allowed to marry in their home city rather than travelling to Canberra to tie the knot.

Tony Abbott's parents and sister - Faye and Dick Abbott and Christine Forster - at the Coalition election campaign launch in August.

Tony Abbott's parents Faye and Dick Abbott with his sister Christine Forster. Photo: Glenn Hunt

But Ms Forster welcomed the passage of the ACT-specific legislation on Tuesday and hoped the High Court would not strike it down on constitutional grounds.

"There would have been many many couples that had been waiting for this, particularly couples that live in the ACT, and if Virginia and I were living there we would probably take advantage of this law having been passed," Ms Forster told Sky News.

"The federal government has foreshadowed that it will challenge the law in the High Court and that casts a shadow over the long-term validity of this law.

Christine Forster and
Virginia Edwards celebrate the Coalition's victory in Sydney on the night of the federal election.

Tony Abbott's sister Christine Forster was recently engaged to long-term partner Virginia Edwards. Photo: Janie Barrett

"I hope that it stands. Ideally, however, the best outcome we could have for all Australians would be a change in the federal marriage act. Then it would be beyond question by the High Court and that's the ultimate goal and I think that's what everybody would like to see."

Mr Abbott's Attorney-General, George Brandis, flagged a legal challenge against the ACT legislation earlier this month, arguing it was inconsistent with the federal Marriage Act.

Senator Brandis said it was in Australia's interests to have nationally consistent marriage laws, "irrespective of anyone's views on the desirability or otherwise of same-sex marriage".

Ms Forster proposed to Ms Edwards on a trip to Broken Hill. She said they lived in Sydney and would not rush to the ACT to wed.

"For us it's really important that when we get married we do so here in our home and our home is a place that recognises the legality of that marriage," she said.

Ms Forster said she did not think her brother Tony Abbott's personal view against same-sex marriage would change, but was hopeful he would allow federal Coalition MPs a free vote.

"I don't think he would stand in the way of the change happening if he saw that it was the view of his party and his party members that this is a good reform," she said.

Ms Forster said she had talked with her brother about the need for reform of same sex marriage, as had other females in the family, including Mr Abbott’s daughters.

"The women in our family are a pretty forthright bunch and we're all pretty upfront about what we think about it, so he [Mr Abbott] certainly has heard those voices," she said.

Ms Forster, a City of Sydney Liberal councillor, said she fervently hoped strong voices in the party would advocate to allow a conscience vote, rather than binding to vote as a bloc against federal same-sex marriage laws.

"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," she said.

"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."

Ms Forster said Mr Abbott's family experiences over the past five or six years had given him "greater insight into just how important this issue is to people and to ordinary Australian families like our family".

"That has to have an impact on people," she said.

The Federal Parliament last year rejected national same-sex marriage legislation.

Labor MPs were granted a conscience vote, allowing them to support or oppose the bill, but Coalition MPs were bound to vote as a bloc against the proposal.