O’Dwyer announced her support for a change to the Marriage Act on Monday in federal Parliament, joining a small number of Coalition MPs in state and federal parliaments to publicly support the law change.
She cited strong community support in her south Melbourne electorate and said she had family members who would benefit from the law change.
Ekendahl, the Liberal Party’s candidate for Melbourne Ports, told the Star Observer he had spoken with O’Dwyer various times about marriage equality and said she had always been supportive of the community.
“It’s good that she’s come out and publicly supported equality,” he said.
“I think Liberal Party policy is always about doing what is right for Australia… and I believe, and I’ve said it before, [that] supporting marriage equality is the right thing to do.
“It’s refreshing to see that some of my other colleagues think the same.”
Ekendahl said he believed marriage equality was neither a left or right-wing issue.
“I hope that Coalition MPs come out and support what they think is the right thing to do,” he said.
“I believe supporting full marriage equality is the right thing to do and will be advocating for a conscience vote for Coalition members.”
O’Dwyer told Parliament that attitudes towards family and marriage were rapidly evolving but not fast enough for another marriage equality bill to be taken to a vote, given the last marriage bills were defeated in September.
“In a volatile and rapidly changing world, committed, long-term monogamous relationships play a critical role in providing stability to couples, and in turn their families and communities,” she said.
“I believe that changing the Marriage Act by extending the definition to include same-sex couples will not lessen the status of families. On the contrary, I think that it will strengthen it by building stronger bonds of commitment between two people regardless of gender and sexual orientation.
“Personally, I am comfortable with the idea of same-sex marriage.”
Sean O’Connor (pictured right), the Liberal candidate for Sydney who also openly supports marriage equality, said he hoped O’Dwyer’s announcement inspired other Liberal Party members to challenge their convictions.
“This is the strength of the Liberal Party, that we do have people from various backgrounds and opinions,” he said.
“I hope that Kelly making her opinion known will inspire other Liberal MPs and candidates to challenge their convictions, and check in with their electorates to see if their opinion has changed, like Kelly has.”
He said he would advocate for marriage equality with O’Dwyer in the party room if elected this year.
O’Dwyer, who is often pegged as a future minister, said she expected the Coalition’s policy to evolve in step with society’s views.
Recent polls have shown approximately 64 per cent of Australians support marriage equality, while a poll last August found 52 per cent of Coalition voters supported the change.
O’Dwyer said the Coalition party room had not yet debated what their policy on the issue would be for the upcoming election but added her party would honour last election’s commitment to oppose a change to the Marriage Act until then.
Marriage equality advocates have lobbied the Higgins electorate for some time, Australian Marriage Equality national director Rodney Croome said.
“We have met with Kelly O’Dwyer a number of times, and her heart and mind have continued to open to support equality for gay and lesbian Australians,” Croome said.
“Her position is reflective of her electorate, and further demonstrates the growing support amongst Coalition members.”
He urged Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to allow a conscience vote for Coalition MPs and senators on the issue.
O’Dwyer voted against the marriage equality bill in the Lower House last September, along with all other Coalition MPs who were present.
Last year, Liberal senators Sue Boyce and Simon Birmingham publicly spoke in favour of a change to the Marriage Act, however were absent from the vote in the Senate on one of four marriage equality bills.
The Higgins electorate covers south-east Melbourne suburbs including Ashburton, Kooyong, Malvern, Prahran and Toorak.
In 2011, O’Dwyer told media she would not back the change after consulting her electorate and said she was not yet convinced it was necessary.