Prime Minister Tony Abbott and marriage equality campaigners can agree on one thing – a referendum on same-sex marriage is not needed.
A potential referendum on same-sex marriage is unnecessary and distracting voters from the real issue, Australia’s marriage equality campaigners say.
Two Senators have come forward in support of a referendum on same-sex marriage in the wake of Ireland’s overwhelming vote in favour of marriage equality over the weekend.
However, one prominent pro-marriage equality organisation has voiced fears that their support is a tactic to delay voting on same-sex marriage bills in parliament.
Australian Marriage Equality spokesman, Ivan Hinton-Teoh, said the primary push for a referendum was coming from politicians who were opposed to reform.
Mr Hinton-Teoh told SBS that they were hoping the discussion would “distract the community”.
'76 votes needed for bill to pass'
Using calculations made on the basis that the Coalition will be granted a conscience vote, he said that support for same-sex marriage had the majority in the Senate at an estimated 39 votes and a near majority in the lower house with at least 72 votes.
A total of 76 votes would be needed for a bill to pass, and Mr Hinton-Teoh said he was hopeful that Prime Minister Tony Abbott would grant his side a conscience vote.
“The question is what will it actually take for the party room to have that discussion?” he said.
‘I’ll go and fight like hell for that’
Senator Jacqui Lambie is the latest politician to speak out in support of a referendum on marriage equality, following Liberal Senator Zed Seselja.
The Independent Senator from Tasmania said she wanted a referendum as, like “most Australians,” she did not trust politicians.
“I am concerned that when your leader tells you to vote on something, whether it’s a conscience vote or not, that’s what you’re going to do,” she said.
“That concerns me greatly. I don’t trust them up here to make that decision and I want the power given back to the people of Australia.”
Senator Lambie is not in support of same-sex marriage, telling reporters on Monday that her reasoning was based on religious beliefs.
“I don’t support the word gay marriage, because they are my sacred religious traditions and I’m going to keep those very close to my heart,” she said.
“The word marriage means a great deal to me and it means between a man and a woman… Quite frankly, I’ll go and fight like hell for that because that’s what I believe in.”
‘Decent people can disagree on this issue’
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has ruled out a referendum, stating that such a measure is unnecessary.
Addressing media on Sunday, Mr Abbott said Australia only conducted referendums when changes to the constitutions were proposed.
“I don’t think anyone’s suggesting that the Constitution needs to be changed in this respect,” he said.
“Under the Constitution, questions of marriage are the preserve of the Commonwealth Parliament… Plainly, this is a matter that could quite properly come before the Commonwealth Parliament if members of Parliament wanted it to be raised.”
Mr Abbott said the issue of marriage equality was a serious debate, which had “good people” on either side.
“Decent people can disagree on this issue,” he said.
“There are a range of views inside the Parliament. There are a range of views inside my party room. Frankly, there’s a range of views inside my family – inside the Abbott family – I am probably the last hold-out for the traditional position.
“… If it comes before our Parliament again, our party room will deal with it, our party room will decide whether our existing policy continues or not and then we will have a good debate.”
Where our politicians stand
Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has a same sex marriage bill before Parliament, while Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm has also prepared a marriage deregulation bill.
Senator Leyonhjelm said he would put his bill to the Senate when a conscience vote is granted to the Coalition.
A previous bill on same-sex marriage was voted down in the House of Representatives in 2012, 98-42 votes.
There has since been a swing towards marriage equality, with a number of prominent politicians such as Chris Bowen and Ed Husic changing their stance.
Wayne Swan has also changed his position to support same-sex marriage, along with Tony Burke.
Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek has previously called for the party to impose a binding vote in favour of same-sex marriage, a proposal supported by Jenny Macklin, Penny Wong and Mark Butler.
However Kim Carr, Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese – all in favour of marriage equality – wish to remain with a conscience vote system.
Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos has also voiced his support a free vote within the Coalition, as well as reform.