Australia's government has squibbed it on a conscience vote for same-sex marriage

Australia’s first same-sex married couple, Dennis Liddelow and WA MP Stephen Dawson, who married in Canberra in 2013 before federal government legal action struck down the laws. Photo Martin Ollman.

The Liberal and National parties have voted against allowing Coalition MPs a free vote for a cross-party private member’s bill to legalise same-sex marriage.

The vote was 66-33 against allowing conservative MPs to vote according to their conscience. The Coalition went to the last election in favour of heterosexual marriage only.

The Coalition’s leading political advice firm, Crosby-Textor, found overwhelming support in the community for the legalisation of same-sex marriage in an extensive survey last year. A record 72% of the population were happy to allow gay and lesbian people to marry.

Queensland Liberal MPs Warren Entsch and Teresa Gambaro planned to introduce the bill this month and it has the support of several Labor MPs with Terry Butler seconding the bill, as well as key independents and the Greens.

Without a conscience vote, government ministers are required to back the party’s existing stand against gay marriage or resign from the ministry if they want to support the bill.

Before the meeting, prime minister Tony Abbott’s manager of government business, education minister Christopher Pyne, accused the PM of being a “branch stacker” for combining the Liberal and Nationals MPs in a joint party room meeting. The PM opposes marriage equality and a majority of Nationals MPs are also against the move.

Labor is allowing a conscience vote, and in recent months, a number of ALP politicians previously opposed now saying it support a change in the law, but the bill now looks unlikely to pass, with key ministerial supporters of the bill now tied to the party policy.

Labor leader Bill Shorten has pledged to introduce legislation in favour of same-sex marriage within 100 days of forming government.

The US Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was legal in June.

In May, Irish voters in a referendum overwhelmingly endorsed a proposal to amend the nation’s constitution to make same-sex marriage legal.

More to come.

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