MARRIAGE equality advocates have said Labor MPs now have “no more excuses” to oppose the cause after a trio of western Sydney Labor representatives came forward this week to declare their support for it.
Meanwhile, Parramatta federal Labor MP Julie Owens — who also supports marriage equality on a personal level but voted against the failed 2012 bill in accordance to what she said were her constituent’s views — told ABC News that if there was a conscience vote on both sides of Parliament, it be “almost impossible” for her to vote it down.
Western Sydney was a major battleground during the 2013 Federal Election campaign. Although traditionally Labor heartland, the electorates have a high percentage of residents from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, as well as diverse religions.
Lobby group Australian Marriage Equality (AME) have welcomed the changes in stance from Owens, Husic and Bowen, urging the rest of Labor to follow suit.
“We urge all Labor members who have yet to declare their support to show solidarity with their western Sydney colleagues and come out for marriage equality,” AME national director Rodney Croome said in a statement today.
“MPs like Wayne Swan, Kelvin Thomson and Anna Burke represent far less conservative electorates than Chris Bowen, Ed Husic and Julie Owens, and have no excuses for not declaring their support.”
The change of heart from the three western Sydney MPs comes during a resurgence in the marriage equality debate. Yesterday, prominent business leaders, including Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce and SBS chief executive Michael Ebeid, met for a panel discussion about the importance of corporate Australia publicly supporting marriage equality.
Last week, Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek announced she would push Labor too adopt a binding vote in favour of it at the party’s upcoming national conference.
The Sydney federal Labor MP has had a marriage equality bill “ready to go”, but was waiting for the conscience vote and co-sponsor from the Liberals before she introduced it in parliament.
While Plibersek’s binding vote announcement – which is a change since 2014, when she told the Star Observer she did not support it — was met with praise from marriage equality campaigners and from fellow Labor MPs and supporters, there were many who also criticised her — including Labor frontbencher David Feeney and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who want the platform to remain as a conscience vote.
NSW Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm, who has been lobbying Coalition MPs to support a conscience vote on his own private member’s bill to legalise same-sex marriage, also rejected the call for a binding vote.
The Liberal Party’s first openly-gay federal parliamentarian, WA Senator Dean Smith — who only recently dropped his own opposition to same-sex marriage — was also among the chorus of Plibersek’s critics.
Meanwhile, this week NSW Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos became the newest senior Coalition MP to publicly declare his support for his party to have a conscience vote on same-sex marriage.
Sinodinos has already previously expressed support for same-sex marriage — but not explicitly about a conscience vote — making him part of a small group of federal Liberal MPs and senators who have defied their party’s official policy of opposing it. These include Malcolm Turnbull, Wyatt Roy, Teresa Gambaro, Simon Birmingham, Dean Smith and Kelly O’Dwyer.
Assistant Treasuer Josh Frydenberg recently declared his support for a free vote on marriage equality, while Foreign Minister Julie Bishop previously indicated she would have an “open mind” if she were given a conscience vote.
Recent reports have also indicated that as many as 11 other federal Liberal MPs have privately switched to a pro-marriage equality stance since January.
In the lead-up to the 2013 election, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the issue of whether to allow is Liberal Party a free vote in Parliament would be a “matter for the post-election party room”.