South Australia could become the first Australian state to legalise marriage equality after a bill to that effect was introduced in the state’s Parliament.
South Australian Labor MP Susan Close will move the Same Sex Marriage Bill 2013 after receiving legal advice that the state’s Parliament was within its rights to pass such a bill. South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill has already indicated he will be supporting the move.
The bill, which would define marriage in South Australia as “the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”, comes only a day after state Parliament narrowly passed a motion congratulating New Zealand on legalising same-sex marriage. The motion passed by one vote after garnering the support of two Opposition MPs.
At least 19 MPs in the 47-member House of Assembly have already publicly proclaimed their support for same-sex marriage, including Liberal Opposition Leader Steven Marshall. However, Labor MPs will be granted a conscience vote while Coalition ones will be compelled to vote along party lines.
Shadow Attorney-General Stephen Wade said that while Coalition MPs were free to express their in-principle support or opposition to the bill, the party needed to respect constitutional law.
“Our party won’t be supporting laws that we don’t think our parliament has the power to make,” Wade said.
Any state legislation legalising same-sex marriage that passes into law may be subject to a High Court challenge, as the power to make laws with regards to marriage is a Commonwealth responsibility, as outlined in Section 51 of the Constitution.
Greens MLC Tammy Franks, however, said that shouldn’t stand in the way of MPs expressing their support.
“We can never know whether or not, at the end of the day, it can withstand [a High Court challenge] but we’re giving it the best chance possible that we’re not crossing any constitutional boundaries,” Franks said.
The bill is expected to go to a vote by the end of the year before a state election in March.