Liberal Senator Dean Smith has confirmed he is drafting a marriage equality bill in a bid to pass the reform before the next election.
“The bill is important because it will allow the Liberal Party to revisit the issue of marriage once and for all before the next election,” the openly gay senator told Perth’s Sunday Times.
“I don’t doubt the complexity same-sex-marriage presents for some Liberals, but I am not asking people to change their mind on the issue.
“Instead, we should allow everyone the right to vote according to their own conscience.”
He said “the time is now” for the reform, and the impasse on the issue had become an “embarrassment” for Australia.
“It is about respecting our humanity and it extends to the friends and families of gay and lesbian Australians,” he said.
“The electorate is the best gauge of authenticity and my sense is that people are embarrassed that Australia has not resolved this issue.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last month ruled out changing the government’s plebiscite policy before the next election.
“We do not support a bill relating to gay marriage being brought on until there was a vote of the Australian people,” Turnbull said.
“We will not support a vote in the Parliament until there has been a plebiscite. We are not going to change our policy.”
An Essential Research poll released last week found opposition to marriage equality had plunged to 25 percent, but 59 percent of respondents still believed there should be a national plebiscite.
Smith acknowledged the plebiscite was still the Coalition’s policy, even though the legislation to enable it was blocked in the Senate.
“The coalition’s position is clear – a plebiscite – so people should not underestimate the challenge of securing a free vote on the issue,” he said.
“But there is a sensible way forward. As dry as it seems, the Senate’s report into the government’s own draft marriage bill released as part of its plebiscite proposal plan is the blueprint for the bill and the most likely pathway for success.”
Smith told the Sunday Times his bill would allow exemptions for religious and other celebrants who did not want to perform a same-sex marriage ceremonies, following the recommendations of a cross-party Senate committee in February.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told AAP a free vote is “the fastest, least expensive and least harmful way” to achieve marriage equality and the reform would be a legacy Turnbull could rightly be proud of.
Australian Marriage Equality’s Alex Greenwich said Smith’s announcement “shows the political will to deliver it in this parliament continues to grow.”
“The recent multi-partisan and unanimously supported senate inquiry on marriage equality legislation provides a clear pathway for this reform,” he said.
“We are grateful that Senator Smith, a key member of that inquiry, is working to turn that into a bill to allow all Australians to marry the person they love.
“Marriage equality is about the dignity and status of hundreds of thousands of Australians, our family members, friends and work colleagues. Today’s news shows that more and more politicians are beginning to understand this.”
Parliament resumes on August 8.