An historic, cross-party bill to legalise same sex marriage in Australia is expected to be defeated after prime minister Tony Abbott’s ruling coalition blocked its MPs from having a free vote.
In a first for Australia, the bill was introduced by MPs from both sides of politics, including members of the ruling conservative coalition.
Warren Entsch, a coalition MP who jointly introduced the bill, gave an impassioned speech in support of same sex marriage, saying the aim was to “promote an inclusive Australia, not a divided one”.
The proposal came as a new poll showed 69 per cent of Australians support legalising same sex marriage and only 25 per cent were opposed.
"A divided nation is what we will be if we continue to allow discrimination in relation to marriage on the basis of a person's sexuality," Mr Entsch told parliament.
The bill was introduced by Mr Entsch and a fellow coalition MP, along with two Labor MPs, a Greens MP and two independent MPs.
Referring to a Sydney gay couple, John and Arthur, who have been together for 48 years, Mr Entsch said: “They are now in their sunset years and would dearly like to formalise their relationship … before it’s too late. After an almost 50-year commitment, their relationship is still regarded as second-rate under Australian law. That’s not good enough.”
But the coalition is expected to prevent the bill proceeding to a vote and has already resolved to prevent its MPs being allowed a free vote. The opposition would allow its MPs a free vote on same sex marriage and most would be expected to support the bill.
Mr Abbott, a staunch conservative and devout Catholic who opposes same sex marriage, last week convened a coalition party room meeting on the issue and subsequently announced that the government would oppose any change until the next election but would then support a national vote.
He threatened to sack any frontbenchers who support the new bill, though backbenchers would not be sanctioned.
Several of Mr Abbott’s Liberal party colleagues– including frontbenchers –attacked the prime minister, saying the party was traditionally in favour of free choice and individual’s rights. Others criticised the failure to bring the issue to cabinet or to a separate meeting of the Liberal party.
But Mr Abbott remained steadfast, saying “we're not going to dwell on this and we're not going to drag out the process”.
“The important thing is that it’s got to be a people’s choice,” he said.
“The decision that came very strongly out of our party room last week was that this should not be the politicians’ decision, it should be the people’s decision, and that’s what will happen in the next term of parliament.”