A senior federal ALP source has told the Star Observer that Prime Minister Julia Gillard is planning to announce she will allow a conscience vote on same-sex marriage in an effort to short-circuit debate at the ALP National Conference in Sydney in December.
The debate would still occur but the source said Gillard believed that pre-empting the outcome would take the wind out of the sails of any decision made by the conference.
The source said Gillard knew she didn’t have the votes at conference to prevent marriage equality from being added to the ALP national platform, which would put her at odds with her own party on the issue.
The source was also concerned that having an issue like same-sex marriage decided by conscience vote would set a bad political precedent as conscience votes were usually reserved for life or death issues like abortion or therapeutic cloning, whereas marriage equality was an issue of policy.
The source said he believed any conscience vote would occur following the conference rather than beforehand, and that Gillard would make the announcement next week.
Gillard has previously said she supports having the issue debated at conference.
Australian Marriage Equality spokesman Rodney Croome said Gillard was engaging in damage control in the face of inevitable change.
“Julia Gillard, and the shrinking rump of anti-equality Labor MPs she represents, know their blanket opposition to marriage equality is defeated, and now it seems they are trying to find a way to save face,” Croome said.
“But by conceding to a conscience vote they will signal to marriage equality supporters that our campaign is working and that a binding pro-marriage equality policy is achievable at the party’s National Conference in December. By making it clear that a conscience vote is what opponents of equality want, Julia Gillard will also focus the immense support for marriage equality within the Labor Party on the single goal of achieving a binding pro-equality policy.
“All those Australians who have raised their voices for equality should take great pride that the prime minister and other Labor opponents of marriage equality are feeling the pressure. We must keep applying that pressure to ensure Labor adopts a binding policy that lives up to the values of the party as well as the clearly-articulated aspirations of its members.”
The Star Observer also understands that a number of Liberal MPs recently expressed their displeasure to Opposition leader Tony Abbott over his stance against Coalition MPs having a conscience vote on the issue.