The premier of the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) has come out in support of same-sex marriage.
'As a Liberal who believes that commitment and family units are one of the best ways in which society is organized, I support the concept of same-sex marriage,' said Barry O'Farrell to Fairfax Media, dismissing the argument that gay marriage would damage traditional marriage as 'utterly ridiculous'.
O'Farrell urged Liberal party leader Tony Abbott to allow a conscience vote on the issue, as Liberal MPs and senators being told to tow the party line against same-sex marriage is a significant obstacle to passing legislation in Australia.
Shadow education minister Christopher Pyne said today that the Liberal party may allow a conscience vote in the next parliament. 'The party room will get to decide that,' he said. 'We might well end up with some recognition of same-sex couples.'
O'Farrell was inspired by this week's passage of marriage equality legislation in New Zealand.
'It was NZ that in 1893 first gave votes to women; it took us another nine years to do it,' said O'Farrell. 'It shouldn't have to take us another nine years to get the lead of our cousin across the ditch.'
The NSW state leader said it would be better for the federal government to pass legislation, but if necessary states could go ahead themselves.
The five lawmakers (The Nationals Trevor Kahn, Liberal Bruce Notely-Smith, Greens Cate Faehrmann, Labor Penny Sharpe and independent Alex Greenwich) who make up cross-party working group on bringing marriage equality to NSW, welcomed the Premier's support.
'NSW now has the same political setting that lead to the successful NZ vote, with both leaders supporting the reform, all parties having a conscience vote, and all sides of politics working together to progress the reform,' said a statement from the group.
The Labor oppostion leader in NSW John Robertson, who's son is gay, also supports marriage equality.
Campaign group Australian Marriage Equality (AME) said that O'Farrell's support shows that same-sex marriage is 'no longer a left/right issue but one that conservatives can support because it's about equality, individual freedom and family values'.
'With strong support from such a prominent Liberal we can see the light at the end of the tunnel on this important and urgent issue,' said AME national director Rodney Croome.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard and opposition leader Abbott both reiterated their opposition to marriage equality this week.
Bills legislating for same-sex marriage were voted down Australia's House of Representatives and Senate last September.
Australia will go to the polls in a general election in 14 September this year. Australian Greens are the only party to include same-sex marriage as a policy.