EQUALITY advocates have praised Liberal Senator Dean Smith for saying the government should ditch its commitment to a marriage equality plebiscite and have a free vote in parliament instead.

Smith, the first openly gay Liberal MP, said in an interview with the Huffington Post that August would be the right time for a free vote.

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“I think the evidence is very, very clear. It will be hard to readopt the plebiscite,” said Smith.

“We are coming up to the two-year anniversary of when we adopted the plebiscite in August. [The plebiscite] having… been defeated, I think there is a natural symmetry about re-examining our policy at that particular point in time.

“I personally believe that this term of parliament… there should be a free vote on the issue of marriage. Most definitely.”

Smith’s comments have been welcomed by marriage equality advocates.

“I congratulate Senator Smith for saying what millions of Australians are thinking: the Government needs to ditch the plebiscite idea and pass marriage equality ASAP,” said just.equal spokesperson Rodney Croome.

“Having a parliamentary free vote on marriage equality is not only the right thing to do but also the smart thing, given polls showing the government could lose office it fails to pass marriage equality before the election.”

Croome said a cross-party marriage equality bill introduced by Liberal MP Warren Entsch in 2015 provides the best model for marriage equality.

“The Entsch bill struck the right balance between allowing marriage equality, and protecting the beliefs of ministers of religion without creating new forms of anti-LGBTI discrimination,” he said.

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