In the Federation Chamber, 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 since 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.
“Personally, I am comfortable with the idea of same-sex marriage.
“Amongst other things, that means, in this area, even more than in all other areas – we should abide by our commitments to the electorate. In that regard, the Coalition made a commitment before the last election that it would not support a change to the Marriage Act. And we continue to honour that commitment.”
O’Dwyer said she had been moved by discussions from both sides of the debate, having met many people and the families of couples in same-sex relationships who had thoughtfully presented their views.
She said she expected the Coalition would evolve in step with society’s view in due course and said she rejected the notion that those who favoured the status quo were homophobic or ignorant.
The Coalition Party Room had not yet debated what their policy on this issue would be for the upcoming election.
“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,” O’Dwyer continued.
“There will be some people in my own family who will be disappointed with my personal position on this subject because they have a sincere view that marriage is an institution between a man and a woman. There will be others in my family though, whose own ability to marry is predicated on such a change.
“In the end, public life demands that we be true to ourselves and that we express our views in an honest and open manner – no matter what the cost.”
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,” he 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 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.
But last year, she again asked her community for their views on a change to the Marriage Act.