Same-sex couples in the Australian Capital Territory, which encompasses Canberra, will begin legally marrying Saturday, despite the absence of a decision from a challenge to the territory's marriage equality law brought to the nation's highest court by the federal government.
The ACT legislature passed a marriage equality bill in October, making it the first Australian territory to embrace same-sex marriage, despite a federal law enacted in 2004 that declares marriages can only occur between one man and one woman, according to the Australian Broadcasting Network. The federal government of the commonwealth immediately filed suit in the nation's High Court, contending the ACT law is unconstitutional.
But in a decision announced today, that court reserved judgment until December 12, simultaneously declaring that same-sex couples can begin marrying Saturday, as stipulated by the ACT law.
The federal government argued that the ACT law is unconstitutional under the Federal Marriage Act and that having differing laws regulating marriage in distinct territories would be confusing, according to the U.K. Press Association.
But attorneys for the ACT government contend that their local law can exist alongside the federal policy, claiming the latter only regulates opposite-sex marriages, and therefore doesn't govern couples who are not encompassed in that definition. If the High Court rules the law unconstitutional, it's unknown what the consequences will be for the same-sex couples who marry in the brief window it was in effect.
At least 47 same-sex couples have already registered to marry in Canberra, according to the Australian Broadcasting Network.