Tony Abbott's decision to rule out a conscience vote on marriage equality again shows he is out of step with what most Australians want.
He and his shadow cabinet decided yesterday that the Coalition will not change its position on amending the Marriage Act.
I think this contradicts the views of many Liberals who still believe in the liberal tradition of letting individuals have a choice, such as the right to cross the floor if they disagree with their party's view on a topic. I hope Mr Abbott spends the Christmas break reading the many surveys that demonstrate that rejecting a conscience vote on marriage equality is going against majority opinion.
In recent weeks, poll after poll has shown respondents want their elected representatives to be free from any party position on marriage.
Last week, a Galaxy poll for Australians for Marriage Equality showed four in five people backed a conscience vote, and of those surveyed, 76 per cent of Coalition supporters want Coalition MPs to have one. Yesterday, a Herald/Nielsen poll had a conscience vote supported by 81 per cent of respondents. Australians want discrimination removed from the federal Marriage Act so same-sex couples can choose whether or not to get married, a choice heterosexuals already have.
Mr Abbott has said he wants to see a marriage equality bill. Last Friday my colleague Adam Bandt and I gave Mr Abbott a copy of our bill to achieve that. Our bill will be introduced into the parliament in the new year. It is co-sponsored by Tasmanian independent, Andrew Wilkie, who also co-sponsored Mr Bandt's firefighters protection law earlier this year. That firefighters law showed what happens when politicians from all sides work together to get a positive result.
In our letter to Mr Abbott, we told him our marriage equality bill should alleviate some of his concerns. A section in our bill ''puts beyond doubt that the legislation will not require any minister or church to marry two people if that would be contrary to their practice. That is, ministers and churches would retain the ultimate discretion as to whether to marry same-sex couples.''
It is our hope that Mr Abbott will follow the suggestion of Malcolm Turnbull and let the Coalition have a conscience vote, as Liberals have done for previous topics of importance. I know of many Coalition members who agree with me on marriage equality but are not yet ready to express it publicly.
Labor can't deliver a change to the Marriage Act on its own, thanks to the decision of the Prime Minister. ALP members have to work with others. The best chance a marriage equality bill has of passing the parliament is for it to be co-sponsored. The love should be shared around the chambers. Labor's Stephen Jones and a member of the Liberals should sign up to the marriage equality bill in the House of Representatives. I will be seeking similar cross-party support for my bill in the Senate.
Since the ALP national conference's decision to change that party's platform on marriage equality, several leaders of religious groups, for example progressive Judaism, have spoken out in support of same-sex marriages. What we now need is for all sides of politics to send the strongest message to the community that we think everyone has the right to marry whomever they love. We must abolish marriage discrimination based on sexual orientation and identity.
First published in The National Times on Tuesday, 13 December, 2011.