The federal government is considering whether to bypass Parliament and launch a High Court challenge on the validity of state or territory-based equal marriage laws, potentially imperilling the push for state-based marriage equality nationwide.
A report in the Weekend Australian on Saturday suggested Attorney-General George Brandis is strongly contemplating a High Court challenge should the Marriage Equality Bill currently before the ACT Parliament pass, as expected, in coming weeks.
A spokesman for Labor leader aspirant Anthony Albanese informed the Star Observer over the weekend it was likely Labor would form a bloc to oppose any moves by the Coalition in overturning the laws through votes in both houses of federal parliament.
“We’re yet to see exactly what Prime Minister Tony Abbott will do so let’s wait for that,” the spokesman said.
“But if the Coalition were to use parliament to try to block or overturn the ACT’s laws we would most likely oppose it on first principles. That is because the Labor Party doesn’t believe its position is to block the laws of other democratically elected governments in states and territories.”
Bill Shorten, the other challenger for Labor’s top job, echoed a similar position when asked by reporters on his views.
“This will ultimately be a matter for the caucus to decide, and if elected Labor leader I will respect the caucus process,” he said.
“In principle, I strongly support the territory’s right to make laws and I obviously support marriage equality.”
On Saturday the ACT’s Attorney-General, Simon Corbell, was among a number of speakers who addressed an Equal Love rally in Canberra’s city centre, which drew about 120 people.
Rally organiser Chris Bourne said even though the ACT bill wasn’t perfect in that it didn’t offer marriages that will be valid in other states or territories, it was still worth supporting.
“It’s nice to see we’re having good-sized numbers, because we’re going to need numbers to respond to Tony Abbott’s attack when it does happen,” Bourne said.
In response to the media reports of a possible High Court challenge, advocacy group Australian Marriage Equality (AME) said it remained confident state or territory-based marriage equality laws could withstand a legal challenge.
“Based on the expert constitutional legal advice we have received and that was received by the recent NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into this issue we are confident that a territory and state same sex marriage laws would withstand a High Court challenge,” AME acting director Ivan Hinton said.