If politicians are given a free vote, same-sex marriage has a good chance of being legalised by the end of the year, says deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek.
But in the meantime she hopes a coalition MP will second the private member’s bill to be introduced into parliament by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on Monday, rather doing it herself.
“Bipartisanship is so very important for this issue to succeed,” Ms Plibersek said at a marriage equality rally in Sydney on Sunday.
Mr Shorten’s bill to change the Marriage Act will replace the words “man and woman” with “two people” and will recognise gay couples who have married overseas.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has indicated he won’t be taking up Labor’s offer to second it.
“I’ve made it very clear that while this is an important issue, the government has an absolute focus right now on getting the budget measures through parliament,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Sydney on Sunday.
Mr Shorten has reached out to Queensland Liberal Warren Entsch, a supporter of gay marriage, who has agreed to talks on a bipartisan approach to the issue.
“I know there are other Liberals and Nationals who are supporters of marriage equality,” Ms Plibersek said.
Labor’s call for a free vote in parliament was backed by others at the Sydney rally, including Mr Abbott’s sister Christine Forster, who wants to marry her female partner.
“What we want … is to bring them to a point where we can have a resounding yes, an Irish result,” Ms Forster said.
Liberal frontbencher Peter Dutton said allowing a conscience vote was a matter for the party room.
He said he went to the last election opposing a change in the Marriage Act and if he was to change that position he would tell people before another election.
“That’s the way in which I would vote in parliament,” he told Sky News. Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young called on all parties to co-operate to ensure same-sex marriage was legalised.
“We know that the next time we vote on a bill in parliament it is going to pass,” Senator Young said at the rally that attracted thousands of supporters waving rainbow flags and signs coloured with hearts.
“It is time to get the politics out of this debate.”
Australian Christian Lobby head Lyle Shelton said parliamentarians considering change needed to explain how they would protect the rights of children to know their biological parents.
“By definition, same-sex parenting means intentionally removing a child from their mum or dad,” he said in a statement.
The Anglican Primate of Australia, Melbourne Archbishop Philip Freier, has asked that if the Marriage Act is changed to allow same-sex unions, clergy will be allowed to follow their conscience.
In a letter to the prime minister and Mr Shorten, Dr Freier says while the Anglican Church “abhors homophobia in any form”, the church only permits marriage between a man and a woman.
Ms Plibersek said churches would not have to marry same-sex couples under the Labor bill.