MARRIAGE equality advocates have cautiously welcomed a breakthrough in Canberra today after a Liberal party room meeting reportedly saw the issue of a conscience vote raised, leading to the announcement of a special joint Coalition party room meeting to decide on it.

The morning meeting was meant to focus on the Liberal Party’s climate change policy, but influential backbencher Warren Entsch reportedly defied Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s wishes by initiating discussion on whether Liberal MPs should be a allowed a conscience vote on marriage equality bills.

[showads ad=MREC]According to SkyNews, there was no decision on whether to allow the free vote, but there would be further debate at a later date.

Shortly after at a press conference, Abbott — who opposes marriage equality — said it would be in a Coalition party room meeting with their Nationals counterparts at 3.15pm today that the government would reconvene specifically to discuss marriage equality.

“I’ve long had a position on this, and my position hasn’t changed so let’s see what the party room comes up with,” Abbott said.

There is speculation the conscience vote debate would fail in this afternoon’s meeting. Nonetheless, Australian Marriage Equality (AME) has urged government MPs to adopt a free vote rather than pursue a plebiscite, as some Liberal MPs have suggested in the past months, because the latter would further delay reform and — regardless of the result — the matter still requires to be voted on by parliament.

Entsch said notice would be given later today for a cross-party marriage equality bill and it would then be introduced in the House of Representatives next Monday, pending approval from the parliament’s selection committee.

The news comes after months of intensified media coverage and pressure from advocates for the Coalition to adopt a conscience vote on marriage equality.

Abbott has repeatedly said the government had other reforms to focus on and that marriage equality was not a priority, which advocates saw as attempts to delay the issue despite polls consistently showing most Australians now support it.

AME said the proposed introduction of Entsch’s marriage equality bill next Monday — co-sponsored by fellow Liberal MP Teresa Gambaro, along with Labor MPs Laurie Ferguson and Terri Butler as well as cross-bench MPs Andrew Wilkie, Cathy McGowan and the Greens’ Adam Bandt — would be a historic moment.

“I applaud Warren Entsch for continuing to move marriage equality forward despite resistance from parts of the Liberal Party,” AME national director Rodney Croome told the Star Observer.

“I’m hopeful the Liberal Party will allow a free vote once the bill is introduced.

“A free vote is consistent with the foundational Liberal Party principle of individual freedom and it would be untenable for Warren Entsch and Teresa Gambaro to have co-sponsored a bill they cannot vote for.”

SkyNews also reported that the previously-tabled bill from Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will continue to be debated in Parliament’s Federation Chamber tonight.

There are two other marriage equality bills doing the rounds in Parliament House — one from the Greens and one from NSW Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm.

With dissenting voices on both sides of parliament, a conscience vote for Coalition MPs — which Labor has already granted to its members — is considered essential for marriage equality to get across the line. The Greens have said they will vote in favour of marriage equality.

RELATED: MARRIAGE EQUALITY ADVOCATES PREPARE FOR BIG WEEK IN CANBERRA AFTER A BUSY WEEKEND

Editor’s note: this story was updated at 2.26pm, August 11.
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