DESPITE the growing number of countries legislating for same-sex marriage, deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek has told the Star Observer the “inevitable momentum” towards marriage equality in Australia could be set back years by going to a vote too early.

Plibersek also said Labor MPs should not be compelled to vote for same sex marriage, even though the policy is on the party’s official platform.

In February, Plibersek won approval from her Labor colleagues to introduce a private members bill to legalise gay marriage. A similar bill in 2012 was defeated when 56 MPs voted against the measure. Plibersek and current Labor leader, Bill Shorten, voted in favour.

Speaking yesterday, the Plibersek said the timing of any bill would be guided by marriage equality advocates.

“What I’ve promised is I won’t move without their agreement giving them time to lobby the other side to get an idea that, if there was a conscience vote, there would be a good chance of the bill passing,” she said.

“I’m not going to introduce it just to lose.”

The Sydney federal Labor MP drew parallels with the republic debate: “In the same way that losing the referendum vote was a real setback for the republican movement, I think introducing a bill knowing that it was going to fail would actually make people dejected and it would reduce what I think is the inevitable momentum towards marriage equality.”

Plibersek added that ideally, she would be looking for a Liberal MP to be “brave enough to break the mould,” and co-sponsor the bill.

As yet, no Liberal MP has stepped forward.

Despite marriage equality becoming official Labor policy in 2011, Plibersek said her 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 also said while official Liberal policy was against same-sex marriage, offering Labor MPs a free vote put pressure on the Liberals to do the same.

“What I would say to Tony Abbott is that it’s very important for someone who always talks about how the Liberal Party is somewhere your can exercise your conscience to grant a conscience vote on this,” she said.

However, Plibersek refused to be drawn on her thoughts towards a swathe of Labor MPs representing voters in suburban areas – including Parramatta’s Julie Owens and Chifley’s Ed Husic – who have both previously voted against gay marriage.

Party sources have told the Star Observer that while many outer suburban Labor MPs are personally relaxed about the issue, vocal lobby groups in their electorates have forced their hand.

Asked if, in hindsight, Labor should have moved faster on marriage equality when they had a clear majority under Kevin Rudd, Plibersek said she was proud of the party’s achievements.

“In Government we got rid of 85 discriminatory pieces of legislation and in every area of policy we did whatever we needed to remove discrimination in our laws,” she said.

“Can you ever say that anything’s enough if any discrimination at all exists? The ethical answer to that is no; the practical answer is our Government did more than any previous Government of Australia in terms of the volume of things that changed.”


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