Before 2004, there was no definition of marriage in Australian federal legislation that stipulated which sexes could marry, but everything changed when former Prime Minister John Howard introduced legislation banning same-sex marriage.
Now, Labor leader Bill Shorten has introduced a marriage equality bill to Federal Parliament, which proposes replacing the words “man and woman” with “two people” to define who can be legally married. However, the Coalition does not support the legislation, and debate was adjourned by the House of Representatives’ vote. The bill will probably not be considered again until parliament’s spring sitting.
Although Prime Minister Tony Abbott acknowledged this matter was a “significant issue,” he insisted that his priority was pushing Parliament to pass the multi-billion-dollar small business tax breaks.
After Mr Abbott admitted that the public and political momentum has become unstoppable, his sister and fellow Liberal Party politician Christine Forster told ABC TV she believes same-sex marriage will be legalized this year. The Prime Minister mentioned that this issue [same-sex marriage] must be “owned by the parliament and not by any particular party” and said it was up to his MPs and senators to decide whether to have a free vote. The Independent opined that the reform will probably pass in August, when politicians return from their winter break.
Despite the publication’s positive outlook, Liberal Democrats senator David Leyonhjelm told Sky News that he would not be surprised “if it gets held over until the first half of next year.” The backer also judged that same-sex marriage will become legal in Australia if the main political players in parliament reach a consensus and present a single bill. Senator Leyonhjelm said Mr Shorten “saw the train leaving the station and he wanted to hop on board” and warned that even with Liberal MP Sarah Henderson’s favourable vote, everything will be decided after a vote in parliament, especially since most supporters of same-sex marriage favour a cross-party approach.
Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is one of several ministers who have campaigned for same-sex marriage while serving in the executive. Cabinet minister Malcolm Turnbull declared his support three years ago when he was a shadow minister and told Q&A that he would not be “troubled if gay couples were able to have their relationships, their unions termed marriage.” One year later, he advocated a free vote for the Coalition, which would mean that frontbenchers would be released from their obligation to vote along cabinet lines.
Ms Henderson told ABC TV younger people in particular were overwhelmingly in favour of same-sex marriage and opined that “it’s the way that Australia needs to go.” Meanwhile, ConcettaFierravanti-Wells, conservative NSW Liberal senator, told the ABC that allowing a conscience vote on the issue [same-sex marriage] might lead to a disconnect between the Liberal Party’s base and parliamentary wing. According to the ABC’s Vote Compass survey, 72 per cent of people who identified as “right-leaning politically” were not in favour of same-sex marriage.
Carol Johnson, professor of politics at the University of Adelaide explained in a piece for The Conversation that Australia is “far behind the times on same-sex marriage,” especially since other developed, English-speaking countries such as New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom [excluding Northern Ireland] have already introduced same-sex marriage. Plus, implementing same-sex marriage is simpler in Australia, because the federal parliament has the power to introduce it and there is no marriage clause in the Australian Constitution which needs to be changed.