The former chief justice of the Australian Family Court, Alastair Nicholson, has labelled the same-sex marriage ban one of the most shameful pieces of legislation that has ever been passed by the Australian parliament.

His comments came as the national gay rights group Equal Rights Network ruled out a challenge to the ban in the High Court. The ERN decision came following advice from constitutional and human rights experts who unanimously agreed the law was constitutionally valid.

Nicholson, who retired in July, said in Monday’s The Age it was strange to introduce a law in 2004 that was based on a definition of marriage written in 1866. He also believed it was dangerous to apply particular religious values to the entire nation.

I am concerned that the government, with the compliance of the opposition, is attempting to entrench Christian dogma in relation to marriage on all of us, whatever our religious persuasion or lack of it, he said.

Nicholson also attacked the assumption children are better off with a parent of both sexes. From his experience with the Family Court he said children need a loving and caring relationship with their parents of whatever sex.

What the government, with the help of the opposition, has succeeded in doing is to turn back the clock nearly 140 years, he said.

They have passed one of the most discriminatory laws that could be imagined. They have ridden roughshod over the legitimate rights and aspirations of these citizens.

Another vocal opponent of the ban last week was North Queensland Liberal MP Warren Entsch, who broke from party ranks to express his disgust at the legislation.

I just find it offensive that the relationship that those people have should be deemed anything other than totally legitimate, Entsch told The Australian. We just shouldn’t be doing this. I am extremely uncomfortable about it.

Gay rights activist Rodney Croome applauded both Nicholson and Entsch for speaking out. Their support for gay marriage shows the issue is mainstream and important, he said.

Nicholson’s support would raise the profile of the issue in Australia’s legal community, who hadn’t seen it as a serious issue.

Croome said the only way to convince politicians to overturn the ban is to first convince the majority of Australians. It’s the same as our strategy in Tasmania, he said.

When we realised parliament was not going to decriminalise homosexuality we went to the people. We need to be out there in the community talking about the importance of this issue.

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