Liberal MPs are quietly lobbying to change the party’s position on same-sex marriage to ensure a conscience vote on the issue, but are not pushing for a result before September’s federal election.
MPs are privately raising concerns with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott about the Coalition’s stance against same-sex marriage, but are aware that any major push to alter the party’s position before the election could damage its campaign.
There is also a view that the party room is not yet ready to back a conscience vote and if MPs were forced to make a decision before September, it would lock in a status quo position.
But supporters are optimistic that post the election, the chances of the party room agreeing to a conscience vote would be boosted by new MPs in the parliament and growing support within Liberal ranks.
It understood that the number of MPs who currently support a conscience vote is significantly greater than those who have publicly stated their position, such as communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull, South Australian senator Simon Birmingham and Melbourne MP Kelly O’Dwyer. It is also understood that when the matter last went before shadow cabinet, the decision was close.
Ms O’Dwyer told parliament last month that she believed Coalition policy would “evolve in step with society’s views.”
Queensland Liberal Senator Sue Boyce, who will not contest the September election, has called for the Coalition to go further and change its policy before the election.
“I would hope that we would take a conscience vote on same sex marriage by the next election,” she said.
This comes as the public pressure mounts on Mr Abbott to allow a conscience vote, in the wake of New Zealand passing marriage equality laws this week and NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell backing same sex marriage.
While Mr Abbott’s opposition to changing the Marriage Act is well known, he appeared to open the door to a conscience vote last week. On Friday, Mr Abbott told reporters: “Our position, my position going into the next election is that what our policy is on this will be matter for the post-election party room.”
Frontbencher Christopher Pyne also told Channel Nine on Friday that the party did not have a “clear policy on a conscience vote” in the next parliament.
This also comes as same-sex marriage activists say they plan to target particular Coalition MPs before the federal election.
Australian Marriage Equality national convener Rodney Croome said local campaigns would focus on Liberal MPs in city seats, such as Julie Bishop, Joe Hockey and Mr Pyne, where there is already strong support for same-sex marriage. The aim would be to use voter pressure to convince Coalition MPs to support marriage equality or at the least, advocate for a conscience vote.
“Much of our focus will be on the Coalition, although we will also target Labor MPs who refuse to support reform” Mr Croome said.
He said a conscience vote on same-sex marriage was possible sometime in 2014, if Mr Abbott and his team was elected. He could not predict the result in parliament, but said that it would be close.
Earlier this month, Greens leader Christine Milne said that there was more chance of influencing the Coalition on same-sex marriage than the staunchly Catholic elements of the Labor Party.
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