Same-sex marriage still no closer, despite bi-partisan Senate proposals

Members and supporters of Melbourne's gay and lesbian community take part in the annual Midsumma Pride march through St. Kilda in Melbourne, Sunday, 29/1/2017. Source: AAP Image/Dean Lewins

A parliamentary committee has handed down a consensus report on same-sex marriage draft laws but the major parties remain divided on how to progress.

The "clouds of partisanship" in the same-sex marriage debate have regathered in Canberra less than 24 hours after the release of a parliamentary report.

The findings of a Senate inquiry into a draft bill to legalise gay marriage - linked to a scuttled plebiscite on the issue - has won praise from advocates and revived hopes for a free vote in parliament.

Labor Senate leader Penny Wong, who is in a same-sex relationship, described the report as a significant and important moment in the gay marriage debate, insisting the "clouds of partisanship had parted" and it was time to act.

But a parade of Turnbull government MPs have lined up to quash a renewed push by same-sex marriage supporters to abandon its plebiscite policy and embrace a free vote.

"The policy that we took to the last election is clear - our policy is to give the Australian people their say in a plebiscite, that remains our policy," cabinet minister Mathias Cormann told reporters on Thursday.

Queensland backbencher Keith Pitt fell in behind his minister.

"That continues to be our policy and we'll stick with it," he said.

The inquiry proposed setting up a new category of independent religious celebrants to perform wedding ceremonies within their faith.

It recommended civil celebrants uphold the law if marriage equality is legalised but said the right of ministers to refuse to solemnise marriages on religious grounds ought remain.

However the committee said evidence supported the need for current protections for religious freedom to be enhanced.

Labor frontbencher Mark Dreyfus said the consensus report showed a way forward and proved parliament could work together.

He didn't agree with everything in the report, believing it placed too much emphasis on religious freedoms over freedom from discrimination and didn't expect politicians to change their personal views on marriage.

"What I do expect is that the government, having lost its plebiscite proposal which was voted down in this parliament, should now not allow its own stubbornness to stand in the way of marriage equality in Australia," he said.

"It should allow a free vote."

Victorian Liberal MP Sarah Henderson, who has previously come out in support of gay marriage, remains "devastated" the government's plebiscite was blocked late last year.

"It was absolutely frankly devastating Labor took that action which was all about politics and not about policy," she said.

"I actually think a plebiscite has been warmly embraced by all Australians and I think Australians do want to have their say."

Gay Liberal senator Dean Smith said it made sense to extend the institution of marriage to others.

Canada, the UK and New Zealand had already legalised gay marriage.

Gay Labor senator Louise Pratt said the report showed it would not be difficult to create laws that upheld religious freedom and freedom to marry.

But Liberal senator David Fawcett, who chaired the committee, disagreed saying it was a complex legal task.

Greens senator Janet Rice said the unprecedented show of collaboration, negotiation and consensus had paved the way forward to achieve marriage equality in this parliament.

Source AAP

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