OPPONENTS of marriage equality are “desperate” to delay by “any justification”, according to advocates responding to attacks by a number of Liberal MPs on the announcement of a new cross-party bill.

The private member’s bill for marriage equality will be put forward by Liberal MPs Warren Entsch and Teresa Gambaro and supported by Labor’s Terri Butler and Laurie Ferguson, with support indicated from Greens MP Adam Bandt and independent MPs Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan.

Liberal senator Eric Abetz today argued Australia should not follow Ireland and the US on the issue because no Asian nation had.

“The Labor Party and other journalists tell us time and time again that we are living in the Asian century, tell me how many Asian countries have redefined marriage?” Abetz told the ABC.

Responding, Australian Marriage Equality (AME) Campaign Director Ivan Hinton-Teoh told the Star Observer Abetz’s comments were telling.

“I think it reflects how desperate those opposed to marriage equality have become in trying to find any justification for Australia’s continued delay in achieving it,” he said.

“It’s remarkably interesting, astonishing really that Abetz is using Asia as Australia’s new moral compass. Not just our morals though, but our cultural cues.

“Our closest ally and our traditional cultural allies that we’re linked to have all achieved same-sex marriage and now look at Australia with some sympathy.”

Other Coalition MPs also took to the airwaves to vent their disapproval at their colleagues.

Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells described it as an “ambush” without consultation and that it favoured the opposition, while government whip Andrew Nikolic said the issue of marriage equality lacked momentum and is “totally misreading” the needs of Australians.

Speaking to the Star Observer, co-sponsor of the new bill and Labor MP for Griffith Terri Butler denied Fierravanti-Well’s claim that parliament had been “ambushed” by the news.

“I saw [those comments] and I can say from my perspective there was no ambush,” Butler said.

“I think it’s been quite well known amongst people in the parliament that there’s been some cross-party work towards a marriage equality bill… I think that everyone in the Liberal party room knows exactly what the issue is and in their hearts they should have a free vote on this.

“I hope that they will do that, even those who are staunchly against marriage equality would at least recognise the principle that there should be that in their party that claims to be the party of a free vote, an opportunity for people to actually openly and freely cast their vote for or against this bill.”

Butler also took issue with Nikolic’s characterisation that marriage equality and the bill would serve as a distraction for other issues facing the country.

“It is not a distraction for any of people that I know who would like to get married… It’s not a distraction to the children of same-sex relationships who would like their parents to have the right to get legally married,” she said.

“Calling this a distraction is really offensive. I know that Andrew might not want to deal with this issue but characterising it as a distraction is wrong.”

Speaking to Sky News, Senator Abetz described the almost decade long campaign to legislate for same-sex marriage as the “latest fad”.

“If you undo the institution of marriage by redefining it for the latest movement or the latest fad, you will open the Pandora’s box for all sorts of other potential possibilities,” he said.

He later clarified that he was concerned that a push for recognising polyamory would follow legalisation of same-sex marriage.

Abetz also took the chance to call on front-bench colleagues who defied the Liberal party’s “long-established policy” on marriage to take “the honourable course of action” and quit their leadership positions.

Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull has a long-standing position of favouring marriage equality.

AME National Director Rodney Croome hit back at the comments from Liberal MPs, calling for action on the issue “sooner rather than later”.

“I understand Mr Entsch has been discussing this with his colleagues and the Prime Minister’s office for several weeks so there is no question of an ambush,” he said.

“We want to see a vote in parliament before the end of the year.”

Speaking to the media a short time ago, the prime minister said the bill and the subsequent commentary this morning had “excited a lot of media” and accepted that same-sex marriage was an “important issue”.

Abbott also repeated a message he had delivered to party members this morning that it is “quite unusual” for private members’ bills to come to a vote in parliament.

He also said that the “normal processes will be followed” in regards to the treatment of the cross-party bill.

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