The Greens are unlikely to move on same-sex marriage in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) despite reports proposed legislation, which would make it more difficult for the federal government to veto territory laws, would ‘open the door’ to gay marriage.

Greens senator Bob Brown is set to introduce a private member’s bill tomorrow which would limit the federal government’s ability to automatically override territory legislation. Instead a veto would need to be voted on by Parliament.

ACT Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury told the Star Observer although the party doesn’t rule out moving on same-sex marriage, advice the ACT Greens have received indicates they can’t.

“I don’t believe the ACT can legislate for marriage, full stop, whether Bob’s [Brown] bill passes or not,” Rattenbury said.

“Our best advice is that territories can’t do marriage, that’s a federal government responsibility. That’s why we support [Greens senator] Sarah Hanson-Young’s bill in the Senate for [same-sex] marriage.”

Greens in Tasmania, Victoria, NSW and South Australia have taken on board advice given by constitutional law expert George Williams that Australian states have the ability to legislate for same-sex marriage so long as it doesn’t conflict with federal law.

Rattenbury said, however, rather than marriage, the ACT Greens will seek to strengthen the ACT’s civil partnership laws which fell foul of federal government intervention in 2009 and ceremonial aspects of the legislation were watered down.

“[Brown’s proposed legislation] is an important improvement because it means the [federal] Parliament will debate it rather than the prime minister deciding he [sic] opposes gay marriage and therefore is going to knock [the ACT’s civil union legislation] off which is what [former prime minister] Kevin Rudd did in 2009,” Rattenbury said.

“Given the opportunity, we’d prefer to see the civil unions legislation in the ACT improved, no question.”

Rattenbury said if Brown’s private member’s bill passes, the ACT Greens will move to reinstate ceremonies as part of the ACT’s civil partnerships legislation.

“I think for the people we’ve spoken to … the symbolism of the ceremony is an extremely important moment, and for that not to be counted as the legal point from which the relationship is created is a key point of difference that discriminates between same-sex couples and heterosexual couples,” he said.

“We would like to, once [Bob Brown’s] bill passes, to think there may be new opportunities to improve the situation for same-sex couples in the ACT compared to what we currently have. We would hope to do that, yes.”

Marriage equality advocates have nonetheless seized the opportunity to call for the ACT’s Stanhope Government to introduce same-sex marriage laws.

Australian Marriage Equality national convenor Alex Greenwich said the ACT should “move beyond” its civil partnership scheme and allow same-sex marriage.

“Legislation allowing same-sex marriages is before the Tasmanian and South Australian Parliaments and has been proposed in NSW and Victoria,” he said.

“It’s time for Jon Stanhope to fulfil [his] promise of equality to gay Canberrans by also moving beyond civil unions and allowing fully-fledged same-sex marriages.

“We welcome the fact the territories will be freer to make their own laws, including a civil union law with a legally-binding ceremony if they wish, but civil unions are not and cannot be a substitute for allowing same-sex marriages.”

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