ADVOCATES of same-sex marriage accept Parliament will defeat two bills later this year calling to legalise gay marriage but believe public pressure will ultimately prevail.
The Finance Minister, Penny Wong, one of the strongest proponents for a change to the Marriage Act, said yesterday that change would come.
”I think the campaign is not going to go away because, ultimately, it’s a campaign for people’s equality,” she said.
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Same-sex marriage … proponent Penny Wong believes change will come. Photo: Andrew Meares
A seven-member parliamentary committee split 4-2 against same-sex marriage yesterday with one abstention as it handed down a report which contained no recommendations, only information for all politicians to use to inform their final decision.
The committee chairman and Labor MP, Graham Perrett, along with fellow Labor MP Laura Smyth, favoured gay marriage while Liberal MPs Sharman Stone and Ross Vasta, and Labor’s Mike Symon and Shane Neumann opposed it.
The other member, the Liberal moderate Judi Moylan, gave no separate opinion.
Because both pieces of legislation are private members bills, time set aside to debate them is limited and no vote is expected until the end of this year at the earliest.
Priority will be given to the bill introduced by the NSW Labor MP Stephen Jones. The other is a Greens bill, sponsored by Adam Bandt.
”We’re short of the numbers at the moment but anything could change,” Mr Jones said.
The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, will vote against gay marriage but has allowed Labor MPs a conscience vote. Number crunchers estimate about 36 of the 70 Labor MPs will vote for same-sex marriage while 10 to 15 are undecided and the rest will vote against.
Tony Abbott will not allow a conscience vote and all Coalition MPs are required to vote against same-sex marriage. Backbenchers can cross the floor but any frontbencher who does so would have to resign from the shadow ministry.
Mr Bandt, who will hold off on his bill until later this year or next year, said the delay between the start of debate and the final vote would be used to increase public pressure on political leaders, especially Mr Abbott, to have a change of heart.
”I’m optimistic of achieving reform within the life of this Parliament with some more discussion and more persuasion,” he said.
Parliament’s standing committee on social policy and legal affairs received a record 276,437 responses to an online survey it conducted as part of its inquiry.
Church groups and the Australian Christian Lobby have fiercely campaigned against gay marriage, despite Labor’s bill exonerating the churches and any other religious groups from having to marry gay people.
Mr Perrett, who holds a marginal Queensland seat, said ”it is important to remember that God did not write the Marriage Act”.
With public opinion polls consistently showing majority support for same-sex marriage, Mr Perrett said it was incumbent upon MPs to respond to growing public support ”by categorically opposing laws that legitimise discrimination”.
Ms Stone and Mr Vasta said the Liberals had promised before the federal election not to legalise gay marriage.
”I do not accept that the view towards marriage has changed since the 2010 federal election,” Ms Stone said.