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Australia holds first same-sex weddings as court challenge looms

CANBERRA, Australia, Dec. 7 (UPI) -- Same-sex couples married Saturday in the Australian Capital Territory, taking advantage of a state law that could be invalidated within days.

The first wedding was held just after midnight in the forecourt of Parliament House in Canberra, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. Stephen Dawson, a state legislator in West Australia representing the Labor Party, married his partner, Dennis Liddleton.

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In honor of the occasion, the Telstra Tower on Black Mountain, visible to the wedding party, was cloaked in rainbow colored lights.

A few hours later, Hayley Wilson and Samantha Hermes became the first lesbian couple to tie the knot. Judith Aulich, the celebrant, presided in her garden in a Canberra suburb at 7:30 a.m.

A court is expected to rule Thursday on the ACT's law legalizing same-sex marriage. But the challengers did not file for an injunction so the law passed Oct. 2 took effect on schedule.

If the law is overturned, all marriages would become invalid. The court could also uphold it or send it back to the state legislative assembly for fine-tuning.

Roger Munson, a former civil servant and Anglican priest who became a Uniting Church minister five years ago, is currently the only religious celebrant in the ACT allowed to marry same-sex couples. He told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. he is willing to perform the ceremony for anyone who wants a religious service.

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"Jesus never said anything against people who are homosexual," he said, telling ABC he has received letters critical of his support for marriage equality. "Jesus always welcomed people, had compassion and never judged people. So when I studied and realized this was a human rights issue it became very strong for me."

At least 46 couples had registered to marry before Thursday.

State Attorney General Stephen Corbell said whatever happens with the court case the weddings will be part of Canberra's history.

"They will be a small part of history in Australia and they will send a signal about what a contemporary 21st century Australia should look like," he told ABC.

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