Australian Capital Territory becomes first in country to legalize same-sex marriage

Gay and lesbian couples in Australia can legally tie the knot for the first time after the Australian Capital Territory passed a same-sex marriage bill. But they better hurry because the federal government is planning to challenge the legislation.

The fight for marriage equality in Australia scored a crucial victory on Tuesday when the Australian Capital Territory approved legislation allowing gay couples to tie the knot.

Lawmakers for the region, which includes the Australian capital city of Canberra, voted 9-8 in favor of the bill, making the ACT the first Australian jurisdiction to legalize same-sex marriage. 

But gay and lesbian couples around Australia hoping to get hitched in the ACT will have to move fast – the federal government plans to challenge the legislation in the High Court on the grounds it is inconsistent with federal law.

"There is no longer any excuse, if there ever was, to discriminate against same-sex couples in our community," ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher of the left-leaning Labor Party told the parliament.

"They are our children, our parents, our brothers, our sisters, our leaders, our business people, our mentors and our colleagues."

"More than anything, they are our equals. The Marriage Equality Act puts this fundamental principle and human right into law.”

But Federal Attorney General George Brandis said the national government had been told by lawyers that the legislation was invalid.

“Irrespective of anyone's views on the desirability or otherwise of same-sex marriage, it is clearly in Australia's interests that there be nationally consistent marriage laws," Brandis said, referring to the nationwide Marriage Act that was amended in 2004 to specify that marriage was between a man and a woman.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, whose conservative Liberal Party won the national election in September, is opposed to same-sex marriage. His sister, however, has told the media that she is engaged to her female partner.

Christine Milne, leader of the left-wing Australian Greens party, said a High Court challenge would not stop same-sex marriage, and called on the Federal Government to drop its challenge to the ACT bill.

"My message to Tony Abbott and George Brandis is get out of the way. You are on the wrong side of history," she said.

The first gay weddings could take place before the end of the year.