Liberal Senator Zed Seselja has come under fire for failing to follow through on a repeated promise to vote for marriage equality if the postal survey returned a Yes result.

The conservative senator responded to a constituent on Facebook in August, saying, “If the people vote yes, I will vote yes.”

A vocal opponent of same-sex marriage, Seselja has defended his abstention from the vote, The Canberra Times has reported.

He stood outside the chamber during the vote alongside fellow Liberals Michaelia Cash and James McGrath as well as Bridget McKenzie of the Nationals.

Seselja is Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs in the Turnbull government.

Prior to the 2016 election, the ACT senator had indicated he would likely abstain if the issue came to a vote, but since promised his vote would reflect the will of the people.

“I’d call on everyone to honour the will of the Australian people as expressed through this plebiscite, so for those of us who are arguing against change, if it goes against us, we should honour it. That’s what I’ll do,” Seselja told Sky News in August.

Defending his abstention, Seselja said he could not support Dean Smith’s legislation.

“Prior to the 2016 election I said that I didn’t support same sex marriage but in the event of a yes vote I would not frustrate the will of the Australian people but would likely abstain,” Seselja said of the broken promise.

“I fought hard to include reasonable protections in the bill but they were all rejected. I could not vote for a bill that would compromise freedom of speech, freedom of religion and parental rights.

“I nevertheless honoured my promise to not frustrate the will of the people and abstained as indicated just a few days before the election,” he said of putting his own beliefs before the will of his constituents.

The ACT’s other senator, Labor’s Katy Gallagher, said she would vote yes but was absent as one of her children was undergoing major surgery.

Two Labor senators, Chris Ketter and Helen Polley, who are tied to the ultra-conservative ‘Shoppies’ union, voted against the bill while three more likely No voters, Don Farrell, Deborah O’Niell and Jacinta Collins, abstained.

Both sides of the chamber were granted conscience votes on the bill.

Seselja said many of his party mates in the House of Representatives “feel very strongly about better protections in the bill” and will seek to pressure Labor when the House resumes sitting on Monday.

The ACT returned a 74 per cent Yes response, the highest of any state or territory in the country.

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