Greens leader Christine Milne has blasted the Coalition government for continuing to withhold legal advice justifying a High Court challenge to the ACT’s proposed territory-based marriage equality laws.
Attorney-General George Brandis indicated last week the federal government will challenge the validity of the ACT’s Marriage Equality Bill if it passes, as expected, in coming weeks.
Brandis said he had been provided advice by the solicitor-general which suggested the proposed laws impinged on federal powers and was “invalid by reason of inconsistency with the provisions of the Commonwealth Marriage Act”.
Speaking to reporters on the weekend, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said his government wished to maintain a consistent and national framework for marriage.
“It is pretty clear under our Constitution that it is the commonwealth which has responsibility for the rules regarding marriage,” the Prime Minister said. “We think it’s important that there be a uniform approach to marriage throughout the commonwealth and that’s what we’re going to do our best to ensure.”
Milne said Brandis and Abbott needed to justify the use of public money to challenge the ACT’s laws and if it was truly interested in a national approach it would back the Greens’ marriage equality bill currently before the federal Senate.
“Attorney-General George Brandis should put up or shut up when it comes to the advice that supposedly justifies spending public money on a legal challenge that is all about maintaining last century discrimination,” Milne said.
“Far from preventing people from marrying in the ACT, Mr Brandis will end up with many couples joining the High Court action.
“Tony Abbott and George Brandis will need to look same-sex couples in the eye and explain the real reasons they are taking this futile action. It’s last century discrimination and the rest of us have moved on.”
A plan to introduce a marriage equality bill into NSW Parliament by the end of the year will not be affected by the expected legal challenge to the ACT laws, according to Labor MLC Penny Sharpe who is a member of the Parliamentary Working Group comprised of Liberal, National, Independent, Green and Labor members aiming to allow for state-based marriage laws in NSW.
“The constitutional laws between the Commonwealth and the territories and the Commonwealth and the state are slightly different,” she said.
“But we’ve had an inquiry into our bill and into the issues surrounding same sex marriage in New South Wales.
“We believe we can proceed and we’re intending to do so.”
Australia Marriage Equality (AME) deputy director Ivan Hinton said the threatened challenge will not deter couples from marrying in the ACT once the legislation passes.
“The couples, like many constitutional experts, have confidence in the legislation and will demonstrate that confidence by thousands of same-sex weddings expected over the coming months,” he said.
“We also expect that these couples, their friends and families will also join the territory government in defending the ACT against any federal government challenge or intervention to these laws.”
AME has created a ‘wedding register’ and is encouraging same-sex couples planning to marry in the ACT to join so they may have a record of their intention to marry, be informed about the process, and share their stories with the world.