ACTING Labor leader Tanya Plibersek has called on her party to change its position on marriage equality from one with a conscience vote on the matter to one that is a binding vote in favour.

The news today comes ahead of Labor’s national party conference in July, where Plibersek hopes the platform would change so federal Labor would be compelled to vote in favour of marriage equality as a bloc.

Labor’s official policy since its 2011 national conference has been in support of same-sex marriage, but it does not make it compulsory for its federal MPs vote in favour of it.

Plibersek said this was an issue of “legal equality”.

“It is a clear question. Do we support legal discrimination against one group in this country? Or do we not?” she told Fairfax Media.

Plibersek said there had been “a significant step forward” in nationwide support for marriage equality, with a 2014 Crosby Textor poll showing that 72 per cent of those surveyed supported it.

However, her call to make it a binding vote is a change from her views in July last year, when she told the Star Observer that her Labor colleagues should not be forced to vote for the measure.

“There are people in the Labor Party who would like it to be a binding vote but it’s very difficult for us to argue for a conscience vote for the Liberal Party and then not have a conscience vote ourselves,” she said at the time.

She had also said while official Liberal policy was against marriage equality, Labor’s free vote put pressure on the Liberals to do the same.

Plibersek has had a marriage equality bill “ready to go”, but was waiting for the conscience vote and co-sponsor from the Liberals before she introduced it in parliament.

Despite this, lobby group Australian Marriage Equality has stated its support for Plibersek’s new push for a binding vote.

ALP presidential candidate Louise Pratt and other members of Rainbow Labor also declared their support for a binding vote from Labor MPs on same-sex marriage.

According to Fairfax Media, while Plibersek indicated she was optimistic the next conference would successfully lead to a change in the party platform on marriage equality, she also acknowledged there would be opposition to it.

One of those opponents is prominent Labor member Joe de Bruyn, the conservative national president of Australia’s largest trade union, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association.

Bruyn said Plibersek was not only playing up her “cosmopolitan” inner-west Sydney constituency and taking advantage of how Labor leader Bill Shorten was overseas for ANZAC Day, but he also believes a binding vote would cause many Labor MPs to cross the floor if they were forced to support same-sex marriage.

“I just don’t think it will happen, because I think good sense will prevail,” he told Fairfax Media.

“Why would you create this sort of conflict when you don’t need to?”

Meanwhile, NSW Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm — who has been lobbying Coalition MPs to support a conscience vote on his own private member’s bill to legalise same-sex marriage— rejected Plibersek’s call for a binding vote.

“I think there should be a conscience vote for all politicians,” Leyonhjelm said.

“Nobody should be forced to vote against their values on this. I want politicians to reflect the views of the community and the community thinks the time has come for same-sex marriage.”

Leyonhjelm’s Freedom to Marry bill, which was shelved earlier this year after internal momentum within the Liberals failed to lead to a conscience vote, has been worded as such so that celebrants who object to same-sex marriage would not be forced to officiate at them. It’s a provision that has concerned some LGBTI advocates who believe legislation should not allow discrimination in special circumstances.

The Liberal Party’s first openly-gay federal parliamentarian has also weighed into the binding vote debate, accusing Plibersek of damaging the progress within the Liberal ranks in making a conscience vote a reality.

“If the ALP was to adopt a binding vote on same-sex marriage then the issue of a conscience vote in the Liberal Party is dead,” Fairfax Media quoted WA Senator Dean Smith, who only recently publicly declared his support for marriage equality.

“Conservatives who oppose same-sex marriage and a conscience vote will be sitting pretty. Tanya Plibersek will be the first line in their argument.

“This has put the cause back and she needs to explain herself to same-sex marriage proponents.

“There has been a slow and cautious approach to achieving a conscience vote and she has wrecked that.”

In the lead-up to the 2013 election, Prime Minister Tony Abbott — who opposes marriage equality — said a conscience vote on marriage equality was something that would be left to the Liberal party room to decide should a bill be presented in Federal Parliament.

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