EXPECTATIONS that the federal Coalition would debate the issue of a conscience vote on marriage equality in today’s party room meeting has failed to deliver, despite the one million-plus emails sent yesterday to Liberal MPs advocating for it.
The news comes ahead of Thursday’s expected Senate debate on NSW Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm’s Freedom to Marry bill, and after the same Senate last week passed a motion by South Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young calling on Prime Minister Tony Abbott to grant a conscience vote.
With the issue not brought up at all in the Coalition party room meeting today, Australian Marriage Equality (AME) has called on the government to set a timetable for when it will be granted.
“The government has missed an excellent opportunity to honour its pre-election promise and its own principles by allowing a free vote on marriage equality,” AME national director Rodney Croome said in a statement.
“It is has also ignored the 72 per cent of Australians who support marriage equality and the 1,773,088 emails sent to government members by supporters of marriage equality since Friday.
“Government MPs who went to the last election as supporters of marriage equality are being placed in an impossible position by a party that refuses to allow them to fulfil their commitment to voters.
“A marriage equality free vote is unfinished business. We call on the government to set a timetable for debate on a free vote so that Australians can have certainty on a reform we overwhelmingly support.”
Of the total emails calling for a free vote sent to 134 federal Coalition MPs since Friday, AME said 1,022,956 were sent at 12noon yesterday.
The organisation even avoided the risk of spamming email accounts by packaging the emails in PDFs so that it could be sent all at once to individual MP offices.
On the other hand, the Australian Christian Lobby has claimed that 20,000 people have sent 2,000,000 emails via its website ahead of Thursday’s Senate debate — all of which encouraged Coalition MPs to stick to the status quo and oppose the conscience vote.
Nonetheless, according to AME 13,232 individuals sent a total of 1,773,088 emails via the organisation’s free vote website.
In addition, AME has stated that 1217 calls have been made since February to the Equality Calling phone line that directs voice messages to an individual’s local MP and senator.
The sudden groundswell of advocacy in favour of marriage equality has reportedly led to 11 Liberal MPs privately switching to a pro-marriage equality stance since January.
So far, only a small group of federal Liberal MPs and senators have defied their party’s binding policy of opposing marriage equality by publicly declaring their support for it. These include Malcolm Turnbull, Arthur Sinodinos, Wyatt Roy, Teresa Gambaro, Simon Birmingham, Dean Smith and Kelly O’Dwyer.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has previously indicated she would have an “open mind” if she were given a conscience vote, while Treasurer Joe Hockey has suggested he supports a free vote.
The Labor party already has a free vote on marriage equality, and its deputy leader Tanya Plibersek has a draft bill “ready to go” once the the Coalition is granted one, too.
Meanwhile, the Greens is the only party that is in fully favour of marriage equality and has it as a binding policy.
However, without a conscience vote from the Coalition and due to unpredictable numbers of MPs from the two major parties in support of marriage equality, Leyonhjelm’s bill is doomed to fail.
The Freedom to Marry bill has been worded as such so that celebrants who object to same-sex marriage will not be forced to officiate at them — a provision which has concerned some LGBTI advocates who believe legislation should not allow discrimination in special circumstances.