A Marriage Equality Bill to legalise same sex marriage in the Territory is expected to pass the Legislative Assembly as soon as October.
By
Thea Cowie

19 Sep 2013 - 8:01 PM  UPDATED 19 Sep 2013 - 8:13 PM

A Marriage Equality Bill to legalise same sex marriage in the Territory is expected to pass the Legislative Assembly as soon as October.

It could be an historic day for many.

"I think it would be really wonderful for people to understand what it would be like to wake up one morning and realise that within a matter of hours you're going to be one step closer to having the same access of dignity and respect of your relationship as your neighbour's. It's an amazing feeling."

That's Australian Marriage Equality deputy national director, Ivan Hinton.

He's looking forward to celebrating his five year wedding anniversary with husband Chris.

The pair married in Canada, but Mr Hinton says the ACT Marriage Equality Bill means he could see friends tying the knot on home soil before the end of the year.

Mr Hinton and his mother Dianne were at the ACT Legislative Assembly when bill was introduced by ACT Attorney-General, Simon Corbell.

"It was electric and it was a packed house. The attention and the energy was just palpable and once he tabled the bill there was spontanous applause and a standing ovation, which was amazing."

Since 2001, fifteen countries have legalised same-sex marriage, affording full recognition and rights to couples entering into them.

The countries range from the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain to New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina.

Other nations, like the United States, have legalised same-sex marriage within certain jurisdictions and the Australian Capital Territory may soon join their ranks.

But although couples from around Australia would be able to get married in the Territory, their relationships may not be recognised in their home state.

The most recent Neilson Poll on Marriage Equality in Australia showed 65 per cent of respondents supported legalising marriage between same-sex couples, while only 28 per cent were opposed.

The Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director, Lyle Shelton, says allowing same-sex couples to wed would threaten the rights of children.

"No one's seriously suggesting they want marriage and not kids. So I think you can't talk about marriage, and divorce that from children. Marriage is the thing that helps bind the biological parents to a child. All the social science shows kids do best with their biological mother and father. We know that where a child suffers the breakdown of its biological parents that's the quickest path to poverty and dysfunction. It doesn't mean that two blokes can't love a child, of course they can. But a bloke can't be a mother to a child. Same-sex marriage is redefining marriage. It's saying that the love of a mother for a baby doesn't matter any more or that fathers are optional."

The bill is also facing opposition from the new federal government.

Minister Tony Abbott says Attorney General George Brandis will be looking into the legality of the bill in a clear sign the Coalition will consider repealing it if possible.

"Obviously the ACT is entitled to do what it wants within the law, within the law. And the Attorney will be seeking legal advice on precisely how far the ACT can go on this. As you know, under the Constitution, the Commonwealth has responsibility for marriage and the Attorney will be seeking advice on precisely how far that extends."

It's something the ACT government is prepared for, after its Civil Unions Bill was quashed by the Howard government back in 2006.

The Australian Greens' Shane Rattenbury is a member of the 17-person ACT Legislative Assembly and helped pass the bill with all eight Labor members.

Mr Rattenbury has told the ABC the ACT government is confident the bill can withstand federal intervention this time.

"There has been a change in the way the ACT is treated by the federal parliament. Previously there was a power where Ministers could veto an ACT law: that was changed by Bob Brown during the last parliament that meant now that both houses of parliament have to specifically move to disallow an ACT law. I think it's far more democratic and far more transparent than a minister just knocking it off."

The bill could also face legal challenge and end up in the High Courts, with some groups, including the Australian Christian Lobby, already indicating they may take action.

Barrister Christopher Brohier, of Lawyers for the Preservation of the Definition of Marriage, says there are all sorts of scenarios whereby the laws could be taken to the High Court.

"A group or a married couple for example might argue that say their marriage is affected because before the legislation if they went out to a party and a man said 'I'm married', everybody would know he's married to a girl. But after the legislation he might say well, 'I've got to explain that I'm married to a girl rather than a boy and that has an effect on me personally'."

But ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell believes the bill can withstand a High Court challenge because the Commonwealth Act defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

He says that means states and territories could legislate to allow same-sex couples to wed because the federal law doesn't apply to them.

There are calls for both federal Labor leadership hopefuls - Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese - to commit the federal Opposition to opposing any attempts to appeal the legislation.