The Australian newspaper reports today that the leader of the opposition will allow his backbench Liberal MPs to vote freely on marriage equality. This means a marriage equality bill, posed as Private Member’s Bills by several MPs including Labor MP Stephen Jones today, will have a chance of being passed.
Before, leader of the opposition Tony Abbott had said he would require all of his Coalition MPs to vote against same-sex marriage. While the opposition frontbench will still be required to tow Abbott's anti-same-sex marriage line, backbenchers will be able to vote independently. ‘He seems to be quite relaxed at backbenchers exercising their will if they so choose,’ an unnamed senior Liberal told The Australian.
At the Labor Party conference last December, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Labor Party MPs would be allowed a free ‘conscience vote’ on the issue. Now pro-same-sex marriage campaigners must work on convincing MPs in both parties to support their argument.
Australian Marriage Equality national convener, Alex Greenwich, said: ‘We now have a very large number of Coalition backbenchers to work with as we seek to build a parliamentary majority for equality. Up until today it seemed like the Coalition would vote as a block against marriage equality but now the Coalition's principle of individual freedom has prevailed thanks to the advocacy of people inside and outside the Coalition.’
Greenwich also welcomed today’s new marriage equality Private Member’s bill from Labor MP Stephen Jones. ‘Stephen Jones' bill is a milestone on the road to equality because it is the first to be introduced by a government member and a member of a major party,’ he said. ‘Three months ago the Labor Party was officially opposed to reform and now we have a Labor member leading the way towards equality.’
Tomorrow will see a debate around a motion from Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie that calls on parliament to confirm churches will be free to refuse to marry same-sex partners in the event that same-sex marriage is allowed. Australian Marriage Equality support this motion to ‘send a message to people of faith [that] they have nothing to fear from marriage equality,’ said Greenwich.
Australian Marriage Equality are asking Jones, Wilkie and Greens MP Adam Bandt who co-sponsored another marriage equality bill with Wilkie to submit their bills to the current Senate inquiry into marriage equality so that the arguments for and against can be scrutinised and the ‘best possible legislation can be developed and put forward’ said Greenwich.
There are fears that if a marriage equality bill is put to parliament to early, before the senate inquiry has fully explored the argument, it will fail.