Australia’s conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott is no fan of gay marriage. At a personal level he has described himself as “probably the last holdout for the traditional position” in his family – a reference to his outspoken lesbian sister.
Last month Mr Abbott reaffirmed his view on gay marriage, with a spokesman telling the media: “The Prime Minister’s position remains the same as it has always been… he supports the current policy that marriage is between a man and a woman.”
At the political level that personal belief has held just as true. As recently as last May, Mr Abbott ruled out a national referendum on the matter after the Republic of Ireland voted in favour of constitutional changes to allow same-sex marriage.
Mr Abbott said “questions of marriage are the preserve of the Commonwealth Parliament. Referendums are held in this country where there’s a proposal to change the constitution. I don’t think anyone is suggesting the constitution needs to be changed in this respect.”
That was then and this is now. Today Mr Abbott is facing increasing pressure from some elements within his own coalition and opposition Labor Party to allow a conscience vote on the matter to go before the Parliament during this term.
According to ABC News, government MPs and senators have this week been holding lengthy discussions on same-sex marriage at a special joint party room meeting.
Mr Abbott’s own conservative coalition’s current stance is to vote against same-sex marriage but a showdown is looming, following a messy meeting where moderates were blind-sided by a conservative push to bring the issue to a head once and for all.
Conservative government MPs and senators are confident the status quo will remain in place – for now – but a test looms as soon as next week.
Liberal MP Warren Entsch has flagged plans to introduce a cross-party private-members bill to legalise same-sex marriage in the country. The bill is being co-sponsored by Liberal MP Teresa Gambaro and will be seconded by Labor backbencher Terri Butler.
The bill looks certain to be formally introduced to Parliament on Monday, with support from both sides of the House of Representatives.
Prominent campaigner against same-sex marriage and conservative Senator Cory Bernardi is confident there would not be enough support for change. He told ABC Australia: “It would be good to resolve this issue so we can return to matters of governance that are important to mainstream Australia.”
When asked whether he thought there was enough support for a free vote, he responded, “I never contemplate defeat so there is no chance”.
Certainly Mr Abbott would agree with that. Whether or not his colleagues do will be tested when the bill is introduced in less than seven days time.
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