Labor Senator Penny Wong has told Insight that she does not want a plebiscite or a referendum on same sex marriage.
She believes the public discourse on same sex marriage lacks compassion and respect, and a referendum would likely fail.
"I had to sit in the Senate where one of my colleagues likened this to a discussion about bestiality," Wong said.
"If we don't have a capacity yet to have a compassionate and respectful discussion in the Parliament, then I certainly would be very fearful or concerned about having it more broadly."
Wong also told Insight the public needs to be conscious of how the gay marriage debate is framed. Members of the community need to closely examine the effects it has on individuals, she said, especially young people who struggle with their sexuality or face persecution within their community for being gay.
“If we could have a bit more conscious compassion, whatever your views, about how people hear the sort of prejudice and message that you are not okay - I think it would be helpful in this discussion,” the Minister for Finance and Deregulation said.
“I sometimes think that people forget how it is heard and what effect that has on people.”
WATCH: Penny Wong on same-sex marriage referendum
WATCH: Penny Wong and David van Gend discuss child raising
SAME SEX MARRIAGE BILL
During the leaders' debate, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that the Labor government would introduce a bill on same-sex marriage within the first 100 days if re-elected. He says Labor MPs would be allowed a conscience vote on the issue and that he himself would vote 'yes'.
But Opposition leader Tony Abbott's position remains the same: the Coalition won't introduce a same sex marriage bill and won't allow a conscience vote. But they haven't ruled out revisiting this decision after the election.
DIFFERENT CULTURAL ATTITUDES
Polling shows a majority of Australians are in favour of gay marriage, but there is still strong opposition in the community. Some say their cultural traditions, their religious beliefs or their political positions mean they simply can't accept it.
Monsignor John Woods is the Acting Archbishop of Canberra. He told Insight the Catholic definition of marriage is a union between a man and a woman with the possibility of them bearing children.
“Marriage is unitive of a couple and open to the begetting and nurturing of children,” he said. “The procreative aspect of marriage requires not sameness but difference.
“Whatever respect and dignity afforded to people of homosexual orientation, for that status and dignity to be realised, does it require the status of marriage? Would that be to the individual and common good?”
In the lead-up to the federal election, Ms Wong joins religious leaders from the Catholic, Jewish and Muslim faiths and ordinary community members to discuss gay marriage.
Ms Wong's stance is supported by gay couples who wish to be married in Australia and, surprisingly, an Imam who practices same sex marriages in the US, insisting that the Koran actually endorses them.
In a fiery and emotional debate, Insight picks apart the different struggles people are having with gay marriage.
Do you support same sex marriage? Do your views differ from those of your family or community? Tune into the program tonight at 8.30PM on SBS ONE or live stream it at http://www.sbs.com.au/insight/live
WATCH A PREVIEW