Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie has placed a conscience vote in the Parliament on same-sex marriage on a wish list of demands sent to both Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition leader Tony Abbott.
Wilkie has been on the record as a supporter of same-sex marriage since running as a Greens candidate in the 2004 federal election. He joins Green Adam Bandt in the House of Representatives in his support.
Australian Marriage Equality wrote to Wilkie and the three rural independents asking them to support such a vote.
AME national spokesman Alex Greenwich said it was uncertain if a conscience vote would bring Australia closer to same-sex marriage, but without a free vote the issue would not be properly debated.
“No matter what their personal position is on the legal recognition of same-sex couples, if the independents truly believe the next Parliament should be a more open and transparent forum for debating key public issues they will insist on a conscience vote on marriage equality,” Greenwich said.
“A conscience vote will allow the large number of Labor and Liberal MPs who support equality to better represent the majority of Australians who do too.”
Wilkie has indicated he will announce which of the major parties he will support to form Government today, leaving the final decision to independents Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and Bob Katter.
Asked about how sympathetic the rural independents were likely to be to GLBT rights, Australian Coalition for Equality’s national spokesman Corey Irlam told Sydney Star Observer that two were likely to be allies.
“Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott both have a previous voting history of supporting same-sex law reform,” Irlam said.
“We would hope to think that with issues like federal anti-discrimination laws appearing before this Parliament they will continue that history.”
As to whether same-sex marriage would be a bridge too far for Oakeshott and Windsor, Irlam said, “Only time will tell”.
“But I’ve found both gentlemen to have an open mind and willing to listen to the arguments. To be honest, I don’t think it’s something they have really thought about.”
Considering Bob Katter’s history of homophobic statements, Irlam said hope was “limited” for the far north Queensland independent.
In 1994 Katter famously said, “If the poof population of north Queensland is any more than 0.001 percent, I’ll walk to Bourke backwards”.
Katter made similar statements responding to the release of the film Brokeback Mountain in 2005.
The independents have indicated they are prepared to split from each other in deciding who forms Government. Oakeshott and Windsor have a history of voting with the Labor Party in the House of Representatives, while Katter has a history of voting with the Coalition.