Pressure on for Australian marriage bill

Timothy Kincaid

December 14th, 2013

Quite a bit of attention has been paid to marriage equality in Australia in recent days.

The big news was on Wednesday, when the High Court reversed the “same-sex marriage”* bill enacted by the Australian Capital Territory. But other movement has kept the issue from being past and forgotten.

New South Wales’ upper house of Parliament narrowly defeated a marriage equality bill on Thursday. The Green Party in Western Australia proposed a marriage bill on the same day that the Court ruled, which seems unlikely to advance. Earlier in the week, a fringe Catholic morality party, the Democratic Labor Party, had proposed a referendum on the issue which was defeated by the unlikely combination of the conservative ruling Liberal Party and the Green Party. And last month the Governor-General (the Queen’s representative and titular head of state) indicated her support for marriage equality.

Yesterday, Federal Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that Parliament may change the marriage laws to allow same-sex couples to marry. (Guardian)

Turnbull said he thought it was “very likely” that the parliament would consider a private member’s bill and that the Coalition party room would agree to a conscience vote, rather than a repeat of the situation last year when Coalition members were bound to vote against same-sex marriage.

“As to whether that would then result in the bill being passed, it’s probably a bit early to say because it’s a new parliament, there’s a lot of new members, but I think there is a reasonable prospect of a change to the law in this parliament,” Turnbull told ABC radio on Friday.

In an apparent argument that Australia was slipping behind similar countries elsewhere, Turnbull added: “I just note that if you look around the world, you know the big English speaking countries we feel ourselves culturally close to, all of them now recognise same-sex marriage: New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Canada and now about a third of the United States.”

Much of the issue depends on whether Prime Minister Tony Abbott will allow his party members to vote their conscience, or whether they will be required to vote in accordance with the party’s stance. As about two thirds of Australians support marriage equality, and as several Liberal MPs are expected to (or could be pressured to) support the bill, there is a good chance that it could prevail.

A number of other Liberal politicians, including the premiers of states and territories, have opined that a conscience vote should be allowed. And should that happen, Turnbull has indicated willingness to co-sponsor the bill.

It is far to early to predict, but Abbott has made a statement that could hint at a potential compromise. (Pink News)

On Friday, Mr Abbott said his position on the issue had not changed and that he remains opposed to equal marriage.

He said the High Court decision was obviously disappointing for the same-sex couples who had recently married in the ACT.

“They knew that there was this possibility that their marriages might fall foul of the High Court and obviously it’s disappointing for them,” he said.

“Let’s see what the future holds.”

* quotation marks are around “same-sex marriage” not as scare-quotes, but because the ACT sought to bypass federal control over marriage law by declaring that their bill was not about marriage but rather about an entirely separate institution called “same-sex marriage”.

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