Australia's first gay marriages held ahead of court ruling

Australia's first gay marriages held ahead of court ruling

CANBERRA - Australia's first gay marriages were celebrated Saturday in the national capital Canberra, despite the prospect of a High Court decision ruling against the unions later this week.

As soon as the clocked ticked past midnight, several couples tied the knot -- including Stephen Dawson, a Labor Party member of the Western Australian parliament, who married Dennis Liddelow on the lawns of the Federal Parliament.

"This is about us professing our love for each other... and at least for the moment our relationship will be legally recognised as a marriage," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Another couple to marry at one minute past midnight, Alan Wright and Joel Player chose Canberra's National Carillon landmark on Lake Burley Griffin for their night marriage, saying they hoped it got the message out "that we are no different".

The Australian Capital Territory passed legislation in October which made it the only jurisdiction in the country to permit gay marriage, and couples arranged to wed there Saturday, the earliest opportunity to do so after a registration period.

The territory, home to the city of Canberra and the national parliament, pressed ahead with its legislation despite warnings it was inconsistent with federal laws which do not permit same-sex weddings.

Australia's Marriage Act defines marriage as between a man and a woman, so while same-sex civil unions are available in a majority of Australian states these couples are not formally recognised as married by the government.

The federal government is challenging the validity of the Australian Capital Territory legislation in the High Court and a ruling is due on December 12.

The ACT government has said it is confident its law is strong enough to prevail but has admitted the legal challenge could have implications for those couples who choose to wed in the small window of opportunity.

"Regardless of what happens in the High Court, the significance of this moment will remain and send a strong signal about what a contemporary 21st-century Australia should look like," ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell said.

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