Australian Court Strikes Down Marriage Equality in a ‘Lost Opportunity,’ Says Atheist Group

Twenty-seven newlywed couples in Australia will have their marriages annulled just days after tying the knot, thanks to a recent decision by Australia’s High Court.

For five days beginning last weekend, same-sex couples could marry in Canberra after the city’s legislative assembly, called the Australian Capital Territory, passed a law in November legalizing marriage equality. But on Thursday, the Australian High Court ruled that the locally-passed law did not comply with the Federal Marriage Act — which doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages — and deemed the ACT law unconstitutional.

“The Court held that the Federal Parliament has power under the Australian Constitution to legislate with respect to same-sex marriage, and that under the Constitution and federal law as it now stands, whether same-sex marriage should be provided for by law is a matter for the Federal Parliament,” the court said in a summary of its judgement.

“The Marriage Act does not now provide for the formation or recognition of marriage between same-sex couples.

Not at all surprisingly, the Australian Christian Lobby and other Christian groups are at the center of the movement to take down marriage equality. Lobby member Lyle Shelton told Australia’s ABC1 that same-sex marriage is essentially a lost cause and he wants a referendum to take it completely off the table.

“If you redefine marriage you’re saying yes to the proposition that it’s okay for some children to be denied their natural mother and father,” he said. “I think that’s an injustice.”

He says same-sex couples should give up on marriage.

“They’ve pretty much exhausted all avenues through the democracy and the courts and I think it’s time to move on,” he said.

The Atheist Foundation of Australia released a statement denouncing the Court’s decision, calling it a disappointment and a “lost opportunity” that continues to treat LGBT people as second-class citizens. AFA President Michael Boyd rightfully commented that the decision perpetuates systemic inequality:

“Equal treatment under the law is a fundamental principle of a fair society. There is no rational reason to discriminate against same-sex couples and deny them the legal and social benefits of marriage. History rightly calls those who opposed other major steps towards legal and social equality — such as voting rights for women and Aboriginals, the decriminalisation of homosexuality — bigots. History will do the same with those who now oppose equality for GBLT Australians.”

As many advocates have pointed out, this roadblock doesn’t mean marriage equality is an impossibility in Australia. Some, like constitutional lawyer Anne Twomey, have even gone as far as to say this could ultimately help the movement in Australia. It simply means activists have to bring their efforts to the federal government in order to overturn the Marriage Act and achieve marriage equality nationwide. Plus, more people than ever are talking about marriage equality in Australia.

“I think most people would not want to turn our system into the American Supreme Court where all decisions on social issues are ending up in the High Court,” she said.

“It’s much better that the elected representatives of the people are the ones who get to decide on those sorts of issues.

“That’s the appropriate forum for this, not the High Court.”

The AFA also commented:

The ACT’s Marriage Equality Act was a welcome step towards equality, even though it was ultimately not successful. However, even if the Act had been declared valid it would not have been enough. Even in the ACT there would have been one law governing same-sex marriage and one law governing opposite-sex marriage. This cannot be true marriage equality. True marriage equality will only occur when the federal government amends the Marriage Act 1961 so it refers to a union of two people rather than a union of one man and one woman. The AFA looks forward to that day.

The most striking element of this story, though, is how the newly married couples are undeterred by the Court’s decision. While obviously disappointed, many have said that they still consider themselves married (one would hope!) and how they’ll continue fighting to have their relationships and those of their LGBT peers recognized. One such couple are Ivan Hinton and his partner Chris, who were married Saturday.

Ahead of the High Court’s decision Mr Hinton said they do not regret a thing. “The amazing thing for us, the unexpected thing for us is the community,” he said.

“The love that we’ve received from Canberra — and this is something that regardless of what happens here in the High Court — it was a celebration in this past week.

“We’ve been pulled up in the streets. We’ve been shaken by the hand, congratulated by people that we’ve never met before.”

There’s also this touching reaction from Michelle Stockwell and Anabel Scholes, who also married Saturday.

“We are quite disappointed that it hasn’t gone through now, but we’ve got our piece of paper, as far as we’re concerned we are married and we shall be for life,” they said.

“If we have to renew our vows then we can have another party.”

Though the timing of the decision is certainly a downer, this should spark a major call to action in Australia. As others have said, this is a perfect opportunity to strike while we’re all paying attention. Inequality is inequality, whether it’s local or federal, and it’s time to abolish it.

(Image via Shutterstock)

About Camille Beredjick

Camille is a recent college graduate working in the LGBT nonprofit industry. She runs an LGBT news blog at gaywrites.org.


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