Tying the knot, while they can

Last updated 05:00 07/12/2013
Australia same sex marriage
HAPPY DAY: ACT celebrant Sharyn Gunn officiates over Australia's first Australian legal same sex marriage between Alan Wright (L)and Joel Player, at one minute past 12 midnight.

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Same-sex couples took the first chance they could to marry in Australia today, with some tying the knot at 12.01am  - as soon as same-sex marriage became legal in Western Australia. 

Stephen Dawson, a 38-year-old member of the opposition Labor Party in the Western Australian Parliament, and partner Dennis Liddelow, 39, were among at least two gay couples planning ceremonies in Canberra at 12:01am Saturday - the earliest opportunity under the provincial government's landmark gay marriage laws.

Dawson and his partner Dennis Liddelow, 39, flew 3500 kilometres across Australia with the hopes of being one of the nation's first same-sex couples to legally marry. 

But Australia's first gay marriages could be short lived, with the High Court to rule Thursday on a federal government challenge to the validity of the Australian Capital Territory law.

Federal law states that marriage can be only between a man and a woman. The government argued in Australia's highest court that the ACT law contradicted that.

Bills to change federal law to allow gay marriage were twice rejected by the Parliament last year, and Prime Minister Tony Abbott was elected in September on a platform of opposing marriage equality.

Dawson said he and his partner decided that they didn't have a moment to lose before marrying.

''We don't know how long we've got in the sense that the High Court might overrule the laws next week, so we thought: 'let's do it straight away and let's have the maximum amount of time being married','' Dawson said Friday from his home in the west coast city of Perth.

Canberra's iconic Telstra Tower was illuminated with sequential rainbow colors at midnight to mark the first same-sex weddings.

The tower would provide a colorful backdrop for Alan Wright's ceremony when he weds his 30-year-old partner Joel Player.

Wright said they were fulfilling a commitment made by their celebrant Sharyn Gunn that they would be the first gay couple she would marry if it ever became legal to do so.

''Joel and I recognise everybody getting married this weekend as being the first couples to get married,'' said Wright, a 34-year-old civil servant.

Sydney University constitutional lawyer Anne Twomey said there was diverse range of potential outcomes to the court challenge.

It could rule that no state or territory could legislate for gay marriage, or that the ACT alone could create same sex-marriage.

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If the court ruled that the law can survive with amendments, Twomey could not say whether the marriages this weekend would be legal, or if the couples would have to marry again after the legislation was amended.

The advocacy group Australian Marriage Equality said at least 20 same-sex couples are marrying in Canberra this weekend.

Gay marriage has legal recognition in 18 countries, including New Zealand, as well as 16 US states plus the District of Columbia.

- AP

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