AUSTRALIAN Marriage Equality is now preparing to campaign around the possibility of a plebiscite after the Coalition voted down a conscience vote in a six-hour party room meeting last night.

Following the party room meeting, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said after the next Federal Election he could either support a free vote‬ to be adopted for the Liberals or put the matter to a public vote in the form of either a referendum or plebiscite.

[showads ad=MREC]AME highlighted that if there were to a plebiscite it must be at the next election, rather than afterwards, and that the question must be set by parliament.

“No plebiscite should be owned by the government, nor should the issue remain at the whim of the PM,” AME stated on its Facebook page.

“If a plebiscite is coming, it needs to happen sooner, not later. It needs to inform the next government, whichever party that may be.

“We’ve already started drafting the legislation for a plebiscite to be held at the next election. It will show what every other poll has in the last seven years.”

AME national director Rodney Croome said any further delay was “totally unacceptable”, and that a public vote at the next election would ensure the issue “is resolved as quickly and cheaply as possible”. 

“Tony Abbott can gag his party room, but he can’t gag the Australian people who will vote strongly in favour of marriage equality at a plebiscite,” he said.

“The question must not be set by the Prime Minister, but by the parliament. This can’t be Tony Abbott’s plebiscite to further delay reform, but the Australian people’s plebiscite to deliver marriage equality.”

Croome added that a constitutional referendum was not needed.

“The High Court has resolved that no change to the constitution is required to enact marriage equality, and that the parliament has the power to to legislate in this regard,” he said.

“This parliament has failed to achieve marriage equality, and we need to ensure the next one has a clear mandate to enact legislation.”

Abbott’s openly-gay sister and City of Sydney Liberal councillor Christine Forster has also expressed disappointment that Liberal and National MPs had not voted in favour of a conscience vote on marriage equality.

She told the Seven Network that the issue “should have been a decision that was kept in the parliament and a conscience vote would have meant a decision that was made in the parliament as opposed to made by parties”.

However, she conceded a plebiscite was the next step “if that’s what it takes to get this very important change”.

“But let’s not put it to a plebiscite after the next election; let’s put it to a plebiscite at the next election,” she said.

Members of the opposition party and the Greens have also criticised the Coalition’s failure to adopt a conscience vote.

Openly-gay South Australian Labor Senator Penny Wong accused Abbott of further delaying the legislation of marriage equality despite consistent nationwide polls showing majority support, and warned that a plebiscite or referendum would be “divisive” for the wider community.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten also rejected the notion of a referendum or plebiscite as a waste of taxpayers’ money, and told Network Seven that Abbott “just needs to move with the times”.

In a speech in the Senate this morning, Australian Greens leader Senator Richard Di Natale said the results of the Coalition party room debate yesterday was “shameful”.

“The Prime Minister, like a cornered alleycat, used every tactic in the book – he scratched, he fought, he stacked his party room with National Party MPs because he knew that he was going to get rolled on this issue,” he said.

“He talks about it as a second order issue, one that doesn’t warrant dominating the political discourse in this parliament and yet he says that it is worthy of a plebiscite.”

Di Natale added the Coalition had a rare opportunity to end discrimination “once and for all”.

“Think of the signal that the Prime Minister’s actions send to the young people right around the country who are told “you are different. The love that you have for another person is not the same as the love that other people share. You are not normal’,” he said.

“Is it any wonder that young people right across the country who are in a same sex relationship have a greater rate of self harm, a higher rate of depression, higher rates of suicide?

“It is because of the symbols, the messages, the language that this parliament has used in squashing a debate that should be about ending discrimination against two people regardless of their sex and regardless of their gender.”

Last night’s joint Coalition party room debate was brought about after influential Liberal backbencher Warren Entsch instigated discussion about a free vote on marriage equality in the morning meeting with just the Liberals.

According to estimates, about half of Liberal frontbenchers spoke in favour of a free vote, but the total vote count combining Nationals MP and backbenchers, 66-33, was not enough to get it over the line.

“While I’m disappointed with the outcome, I am not angry and I accept the decision of the party room,” Entsch said in a statement last night.

“I was hoping for a free vote however I have to concede that I was still not confident that we would get the outcome we hoped for.

“In the Party Room today, during the six hours of discussion, there was potential for highly emotive, over-the-top debate.

“However, I have to commend my colleagues for the robust and respectful standard of the conversation, notwithstanding the fact that there were diametrically opposed views.”

While Entsch confirmed his Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 — 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 — will be introduced in the House of Representatives next Monday, he did not have high hopes.

“I have to concede however that given today’s decision, the likelihood of failure ‐ should it come to a vote ‐ is assured,” he said.

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

At the moment, backbench Coalition MPs such as Entsch can vote against marriage equality legislation without consequences, but frontbenchers will have to resign should they defy party policy and cross the floor whenever a marriage equality bill is debated in Federal Parliament.

The last time Australia had a plebiscite was in 1977, when Advance Australia Fair was chosen as the new national anthem to replace God Save The Queen. However, despite the successful results it wasn’t until 1984 that it was officially adopted.

RELATED: COALITION REJECTS A FREE VOTE ON MARRIAGE EQUALITY AFTER SIX HOURS OF DEBATE

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