Katy GallagherThe ACT Government yesterday announced plans to introduce marriage equality laws into the Territory Assembly, creating the first significant test for the new federal Coalition Government’s stance on marriage equality.

ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said the Marriage Equality Bill 2013 would allow couples ineligible to marry under the federal Marriage Act 1961 to get married in the ACT.

“We would prefer to see the federal parliament legislate for a nationally consistent scheme but in the absence of this, we will act for the people of the ACT,” said Gallagher.

“The government is determined to remove discrimination against same sex couples and their families. With this legislation we will state loud and clear that all people have equal rights in our society and are treated equally by our laws.”

Marriage equality advocates have welcomed the announcement, which came as part of the ACT Government’s Spring 2013 legislation program, one with a heavy human rights focus.

“Census data released this year shows Canberra as having the highest proportion of same-sex couples in the country which only reinforces the responsibility of the ACT Government to legislate for this significant part of our community,” said Australian Marriage Equality deputy national director Ivan Hinton.

“As long as the Federal Parliament fails to act it is important that state and territory governments pursue laws that provide for full and equal recognition and dignity for same-sex relationships.”

Other proposed bills in the announcement included consistent documentation laws for trans people with the Births Deaths and Marriages (Transgender) Amendment Bill 2013, and greater recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with the Human Rights Amendment Bill 2013.

In the lead-up to the federal election the Coalition did not respond to questions from LGBTI advocates on whether it would challenge state or territory-based marriage equality law. Responses from the Australian Labor Party on this issue were similarly unclear.

The Coalition has declined to comment on the newly-announced legislation, leaving the fate of the laws unclear if the bill passes successfully. During the election campaign the Coalition was careful to distinguish the party’s position on marriage equality from the anti-equality position held by party leader and Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott.

The ACT Legislative Assembly successfully passed a same-sex civil unions scheme in 2006 aiming to provide relationship recognition equal to marriages conducted under federal law, sparking a high-profile conflict between the ACT and federal governments.

After the law was enacted then-Attorney General Phillip Ruddock instructed the Governor General to disallow the law, a move heavily criticised by opposition politicians and civil rights advocates.

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