CANBERRA, Australia – A state lawmaker and his partner plan to fly 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles) across Australia to become one of the nation's first same-sex couples to legally marry at an after-midnight ceremony in the Australian capital.
Stephen Dawson, a 38-year-old member of the opposition Labor Party in the Western Australian Parliament, and partner Dennis Liddelow, 39, are among at least two gay couples planning ceremonies in Canberra at 12:01 a.m. Saturday — the earliest opportunity under the provincial government's landmark gay marriage laws.
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 will be illuminated with sequential rainbow colors at midnight to mark the first same-sex weddings.
The tower will 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 recognize 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.
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 as well as 16 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia.