Australia's conservative national government said Thursday that it would overturn any new law legalizing gay civil unions in the national capital.
"There is a special place in Australian society for the institution of marriage, as historically understood, and we do not intend to allow that to be in any way undermined," said Prime Minister John Howard, according to Reuters.
Howard’s comment comes after the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government, which rules the capital, Canberra, became the nation’s first state or territory to introduce same-sex civil union legislation. Though the ACT hopes to pass the legislation into law by May, the federal government has constitutional control over the nation's two territories, though not its six states, enabling it to overturn laws.
"The Commonwealth Parliament has declared the longstanding law of this country ... is that marriage is a voluntary union for life between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others," Howard said, according to the Canberra Times. "[We] look with some skepticism at what the ACT is doing."
The prime minister echoed church concerns that the legislation allowed proposed unions that were "marriage by another name."
Howard said he believed ACT chief minister Jon Stanhope had deliberately sought to undermine the place of marriage in Australian society. The bill was introduced two years after a federal law passed by the Prime Minister’s government that formally defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
"If they seek to portray civil unions as a marriage, in our view, that is quite inappropriate," said Attorney General Philip Ruddock, according to Reuters. "It is quite misleading, it suggests to people who might be interested in civil union that what they have is a marriage, when in fact it is not."
Ruddock said the Commonwealth (federal) government would veto any law which elevated gay civil unions to the status of marriage.
According to the Canberra Times, the Commonwealth has only used it constitutional power to overrule territory legislation once before, when it blocked the Northern Territory's pioneering euthanasia laws in 1997.