by Benjamin Riley
Marriage equality supporters have presented Opposition leader Tony Abbott with 2500 letters demanding a conscience vote from the Coalition on same-sex marriage, prompting campaigners to step up efforts to meet with Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Last Friday Abbott met to discuss marriage equality with small business owner and Vietnam veteran Geoff Thomas and his gay son Nathan. Nathan presented the Opposition leader with the 2500 letters.

Thomas, who helped focus national attention on the issue by asking Abbott about marriage equality on the nationally televised ABC current affairs program Q&A, believes the meeting went well.

“What he said was if the majority of people in the Liberal Party wanted a conscience vote he would consider it,” Thomas said.

“I got to tell you he gave us a very reasoned amount of time and I think he was impressed with what we had to say. My reading of it was that it was a very successful meeting.”

Thomas conceded that other Coalition frontbenchers had been less open to a discussion on marriage equality.

“When [Nationals leader] Warren Truss met us he just lectured us about how we ought to behave,” he said.

But despite receiving the letters in support of a conscience vote on marriage equality, Abbott’s office downplayed the possibility that the Coalition’s policy could change to allow a conscience vote on the issue by its members any time soon.

“There was a candid discussion with Nathan and Geoff Thomas in which Mr Abbott restated that the Coalition’s policy is to oppose gay marriage and that it is Coalition policy not to have a conscience vote on the issue,” a spokesperson for Abbott told The Australian.

Prime Minister Gillard has so far refused to even meet with marriage equality advocates.

Urged on by Thomas’ meeting with the Opposition leader, Australian Marriage Equality national convenor Alex Greenwich said his organisation will resume its campaign to meet with Gillard to discuss the urgency of legal reform.

“We want to impress on the Prime Minister that this is not a boutique issue that can wait till she deals with everything else, but an urgent human rights reform that cannot wait any longer,” he said.

Like the Opposition, the federal Labor Government also opposes marriage equality, although Gillard has promised the party’s policy will be reviewed at its National Conference at the end of this year.

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