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Published: Saturday December 7, 2013 MYT 1:30:02 PM
Updated: Saturday December 7, 2013 MYT 1:30:51 PM

Australia celebrates first same-sex marriages ahead of court challenge

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia celebrated its first same-sex marriages on Saturday under the threat of a court challenge that could render the unions invalid within days.

Shortly after midnight (1300 GMT Friday), gay couples began tying the knot under a recently passed law legalising same-sex unions in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), which surrounds and includes the capital Canberra.

The first ceremonies were celebrated a minute after the territory's Marriage Equality Act came into force.

"This is an important day for same-sex couples and our families, but also for the nation, because today Australia is a fairer and more equal country that values love more highly," said Australian Marriage Equality director Rodney Croome.

Croome said 47 same-sex couples were registered to marry in the territory in the next few days.

But same-sex couples wishing to tie the knot may only have a few days in which to do so. The ACT marriage law has been challenged by the conservative national government on the grounds it conflicts with federal law.

A ruling on its legality by the High Court, Australia's highest court, is due on December 12. If it rules against the law, Croome said same-sex marriages would be rendered invalid.

"They will cease to exist," Croome told Reuters.

The new law has been criticised by religious and conservative groups. Supporters say it brings Australia into line with many of its major allies in the world, which have legalised various forms of same-sex unions.

(Reporting by Christopher McCall; Editing by Michael Perry)

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