Australia's highest court halts same sex marriage

Australia's highest court has struck down a landmark law allowing the country's first same sex marriages, shattering the dreams of more 20 couples whose marriages will now be annulled, less than a week after their weddings.

Gay rights activists hold a rainbow flag during a rally to support same-sex marriage in central Sydney. Credit: Reuters

The federal government had challenged the validity of the Australian Capital Territory's law that had allowed gay marriages in the nation's capital and its surrounding area, starting last Saturday.

The federal government's lawyer argued that having different marriage laws in various Australian states and territories would create confusion.

The ACT, which passed the law in October, said it should stand because it governs couples outside the federal definition of marriage as being between members of the opposite sex.

The High Court unanimously ruled that the ACT's law could not operate concurrently with the federal Marriage Act, which was amended in 2004 to define marriage as between a man and a woman.