Australia: PM asks for legal advice over Australian Capital Territory’s equal marriage bill

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Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has revealed that he is seeking legal advice on the Australian Capital Territory’s (ACT) equal marriage bill, to see “how far [they] can go with this.”

The equal marriage bill, which was announced earlier this week by the ACT’s minority Labor government, was introduced to the Legislative Assembly earlier today to rapturous applause and a standing ovation, but Mr Abbott has said that he is investigating the legal details of the bill.

“The ACT is entitled to do what it can within the law,” Mr Abbott told Radio Australia.

“As you know, under the constitution the Commonwealth has responsibility for marriage and the [federal] Attorney General will be seeking advice on precisely how far the ACT can go on this.”

The Australian Capital Territory’s Attorney General Simon Corbell, who tabled the bill today, says that the legal advice he has been given indicates that the new law would work in conjunction with the federal Commonwealth Marriage Act 1961.

“The Commonwealth Marriage Act is designed to recognise marriage between men and women,” he said.

“Our act is an act designed to recognise marriage between people of the same sex.”

Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the Prime Minister should not try to interfere with the Legislative Assembly’s decision, and warned him not to overturn the law if it is passed.

“It would be a very brave Mr Abbott if he was to, in the face of huge public support, introduce legislation to overturn marriage equality in the ACT,” she said.

“The majority of Australians want to see it happen, they believe Mr Abbott is out of step on this issue.”

Observers and legal experts have said it is highly likely the bill will be challenged in the High Court.

The ACT’s Deputy Chief Minister Andrew Barr says he was holding back tears when the bill was tabled in the Legislative Assembly today. Mr Barr, who is in a civil partnership, says it has been a long journey for the legislation.

“Well it is emotional obviously, I was holding back tears at various moments,” he said.

The bill is expected to be debated and voted on in October.

Liberal Party leader Mr Abbott, an opponent of equal marriage, was elected just two weeks ago, defeating incumbent Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Mr Rudd had previously vowed to take the first steps towards equalising marriage in Australia if he won another term.