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Gay and lesbian couples marry in Australia under shadow of High Court ruling

Australia's first same-sex marriages have been held in Canberra - however they could prove short-lived. The nation's high court is due to rule on Thursday on the legality of the only regional law permitting the unions.

Gay and lesbian couples from around Australia were married in Canberra on Saturday - the first to take advantage of unique new legislation which legalized same-sex marriage in the Australian Capital Territory.

Several couples tied the knot as the clock ticked past midnight, including Stephen Dawson, a Labor Party member of the Western Australian parliament, who married Dennis Liddelow on the lawns of the Federal Parliament.

"This is about us professing our love for each other... and at least for the moment our relationship will be legally recognized as a marriage," Dawson told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Deputy Director of advocacy group Australian Marriage Equality, Ivan Hinton, was also among those to wed on Saturday - the first day the unions could legally take place.

"This is the first time that we have been able to demonstrate that the sky will not cave in," Hinton said at his wedding to his Malaysian-born husband, Chris Teoh, referring to same-sex couples marrying in Australia.

The Australian Capital Territory became the only jurisdiction in Australia to permit same-sex marriage in October, despite warnings from the government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott that the new legislation did not comply with Federal laws. The government has taken its complaint to the High Court, which is due to rule on the legality of the territory's fledgling law on December 12.

Depending on the outcome of the ruling, couples who marry within the next five days could see their unions annulled. Even if the law is upheld, the Federal Parliament still has the power to overturn the law with separate legislation.

Last year Australia's Parliament twice rejected bills to allow same-sex marriage. Abbott, whose conservative Liberal-National party coalition came to power in September, does not support same-sex marriage and has not allowed his party a conscience vote on the issue.

Abbott's sister Christine Forster, a gay councillor from the city of Sydney, has publicly urged her brother to allow a conscience vote.

Couples herald step forward for marriage equality

According to the advocacy group Australian Marriage Equality, 25 couples have said they are nevertheless planning to use the small time-frame to wed in Canberra this weekend. Some couples say, irrespective of the high court ruling, the unions mark a step in the right direction for marriage equality.

"I understand that the High Court [challenge] is an issue and we will deal with that on Thursday but it can't overshadow that Chris and I woke up this morning knowing that our community respects us for who we are, has the same respect for our relationship and has the same hopes as we do for our future," Hinton told news agency AFP.

"What happens on Thursday and further on in the pursuit of marriage equality really comes second to that experience."

However the Australian Christian Lobby spoke against same-sex marriages on Saturday, warning that it carried "big social consequences," particularly for children of same-sex partners. The group's spokesman Lyle Shelton Shelton told Sky News television the unions would mean children are effectively removed from a biological parent.

"We hear about equal love all the time but we don't hear about what it means for children," Shelton said.

New Zealand became the first Asia-Pacific country in April to join 18 nations who have legalized same-sex marriage. A further 16 US states, plus the District of Columbia, also recognize the unions.

ccp/jr (AFP, AP)