By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America and Oceania
CANBERRA, Australia — A maverick lawmaker broke from conservative government ranks on Monday to introduce legislation that would legalize gay marriage in Australia. The historic, cross-party bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Australia is expected to be defeated after Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s ruling coalition blocked their respective MPs from having a free vote.
The private member’s bill comes amid heated debate among government MPs about whether to change the law or put the matter to a plebiscite.
The government’s official position is that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
Warren Entsch, who has been dubbed a progressive redneck by the Australian media, introduced a private member’s bill that would allow same-sex marriage throughout Australia. Entsch conceded that his bill has little chance of reaching a vote, because the ruling coalition decided last week that government lawmakers should be bound by the party line opposing gay marriage.
“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,” said Entsch.
The opposition party would allow its MPs a free vote on same-sex marriage, and most would be expected to support the bill. The coalition however, is expected to prevent the bill from proceeding to a vote and has already resolved to prevent its MPs being allowed a free vote. Mr. Abbott 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.
In explaining his rationale, Prime Minister Abbott was quoted by the Irish Independent, saying: “The important thing is that it’s got to be a people’s choice. 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.”
Several of Mr. Abbott’s Liberal party colleagues attacked the prime minister, saying the party was traditionally in favor of free choice and individual’s rights.
Australia’s Marriage Act specifies marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Officially, the ruling Liberal-National coalition does not support gay marriage. The Opposition Labor party endorses gay marriage, but allows its MPs a conscience vote on legislation.
According to data obtained from BBC World, numerous polls conducted within Australia over the past year show anywhere from 60% to 72% of Australians support gay marriage.
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