The push for same-sex marriage is back on - and PM Tony Abbott is trying to hose it down

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.

Plans to introduce a cross-party private member’s bill to legalise same-sex marriage in Australia have been hosed down by prime minister Tony Abbott, who said it was “rare” for such bills to make it to the vote.

Queensland Liberal MPs Warren Entsch and Teresa Gambaro want to introduce the bill in early August, and it has the support of several Labor MPs with Terry Butler seconding the bill, as well as key independents and the Greens. But it appears the proposal was leaked yesterday in a bid to rally MPs against same-sex marriage, with Gambaro confirming in a statement that she was a co-sponsor of the bill saying it “should not be an issue that divides us”.

Gambaro took a swipe at opponents saying “it saddens me that some people have sought to exploit this issue for political gain” adding that it must be “dealt with carefully, responsibly and in a respectful matter”.

The conservative side of politics is grappling with whether government MPs should be allowed to have a free vote on the issue. Tony Abbott cast doubt on the idea after the bill was revealed when a spokesperson said “It is rare for a private members’ bill to be voted on and any bill would be subject to the usual process. The prime minister’s position remains the same as it has always been and he supports the current policy that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

A pending vote would trigger Coalition party room debate on the issue and open up the possibility of a free vote. NSW Liberal senator Arthur Sinodinos told Sky News the cross-party bill was “finally bringing the issue to a head”.

The bill is due to be introduced to parliament on August 11, with the Liberal party room addressing the issue on August 18 and likely to decide whether a free vote would happen. That gives both sides of the debate six weeks to rally support. Without a free vote, government ministers would be required to back the party’s existing position or expected to resign from the ministry if they wanted to support the bill.

Labor leader Bill Shorten attempted to introduce a private member’s bill last month in the wake of Ireland’s historic referendum in favour of same-sex marriage, but it failed. Abbott described Shorten’s bill as a potential distraction from the government’s focus on the budget and small business and Warren Entsch accused the Labor leader of politicising the issue.

Last week the US Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is legal, in a 5-4 decision that found the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution requires a state to licence a marriage between two people of the same sex.

The issue has provoked heated reactions in Australia, with the Catholic church in Sydney writing to businesses that supported a full-page newspaper ad that appeared last month, in a veiled boycott threat against companies such as Qantas, Optus and the CBA, accusing them of taking part in a “cashed-up, activist-driven media campaign.”

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