The federal government had challenged the validity of the Australian Capital Territory’s (ACT) law that had allowed gay marriages in the nation’s capital and its surrounding area, starting last Saturday.
The federal government’s lawyer argued that having different marriage laws in various Australian states and territories would create confusion.
The ACT, which passed the law in October, said it should stand because it governs couples outside the federal definition of marriage as being between members of the opposite sex. The High Court unanimously ruled that the law could not operate concurrently with the federal marriage act, which was amended in 2004 to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
The court said: “The marriage act does not now provide for the formation or recognition of marriage between same sex-couples. The marriage act provides that a marriage can be solemnised in Australia only between a man and a woman. That act is a comprehensive and exhaustive statement of the law of marriage.”
For Ivan Hinton, who married his partner Chris Teoh on Saturday, the result was heartbreaking. The couple received their marriage certificate on Wednesday and applied to change their surnames to Hinton-Teoh.
Mr Hinton said he does not regret the wedding and will always consider Mr Teoh his husband. “This was an unprecedented and historic opportunity,” he said. “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
Rodney Croome, the national director of the advocacy group Australian Marriage Equality, said his group knows of about 30 same-sex couples who had married since Saturday, although the actual number may be slightly higher. The ruling means their marriages are nullified.
Lyle Shelton, managing director of Australian Christian Lobby, which opposes same-sex marriage, praised the court ruling and said common sense had prevailed.