SYDNEY: An Australian territory became the first to legalise civil partnership ceremonies for same-sex couples, in a move supporters hoped would spark national momentum.

Under the new laws, gay couples will be able to hold a legally recognised civil union ceremony in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), home to the nation's parliament.

The region's legislators approved the bill on Wednesday, moved by the ACT Greens party, after an amendment banning heterosexual couples from being recognised under the system.

The amendment means the law will not go against national legislation that says civil unions must not mimic marriage.

"We understand that this is not same-sex marriage," said Greens MP Shane Rattenbury, who drafted the bill.

"This legislation is another step along the road to full equality for same-sex couples in Australia, and we are delighted that the assembly has passed it today," he added.

The law could yet be struck down by Australia's attorney-general, who overturned a similar bid in February 2008 on the grounds it broke national marriage laws.

It was the second time the national government had quashed gay marriage legislation in the ACT, after a previous attempt to instigate same-sex unions in 2006.

But ACT chief minister Jon Stanhope has said opposition is now "muted" and he was hopeful the law would be allowed to stand, despite a cross-party rejection of gay marriage at the national level.

The ruling Labor party voted in August to uphold Australia's gay marriage ban, but the government has also passed legislation to remove same-sex discrimination from almost 100 national laws including areas such as pensions, tax and employment.