Gay Marriage

Australia's Parliament Won't Vote for Gay Marriage, But Its Citizens Might

Prime minister successfully blocks efforts to allow MPs to vote how they choose.


Kylie Minogue is not pleased, y'all.
Credit: pumpkinmook / photo on flickr

Australia won't be joining the United States and Ireland in legalizing same-sex marriage recognition in the very near future. Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his ruling coalition of conservative parties will not allow its party members to vote their consciences, essentially forcing them to accept the coalition's current position against recognition. Therefore, gay marriage will not be coming to Australia via the country's parliament under the current government. From Reuters:

The decision by Abbott to use parliamentary tactics to thwart the libertarian wing of his Liberal Party comes just six months after he narrowly survived a party room coup and amid dismal polls that have reignited speculation over his future.

In the Australian parliament, crossing the floor is extremely rare and lawmakers can face severe retribution up to expulsion if they defy the party to vote against their colleagues. The coalition's current position is against same-sex marriage.

Public opinion is strongly in favor of legalizing the practice but Abbott, a socially conservative Catholic, has maneuvered to head off a free vote.

On Tuesday, Abbott called a rare meeting of the full coalition party room to decide the issue. The presence of right-wing coalition partner The Nationals overwhelmed support for a free vote among Abbott's Liberals by a ratio two to one.

In American terms, the Liberal Party would be seen as moderate conservatives (hence the "libertarian" reference) and the Nationals are further to the right. There are some members of the Liberal Party who would vote for gay marriage recognition, but not in defiance of the party orders. A Liberal Party member co-sponsored legislation with the country's Labor Party (left liberals, in American terms), but it's not likely to get anywhere because of the refusal to permit a conscience vote.

Abbott, acknowledging the country's public opinion (more than 70 percent support gay marriage in polls), is suggesting a national referendum after next year's elections. Obviously, the Labor Party will use this unpopular decision to try to diminish the power of the ruling Coalition.

Perhaps Australia's Liberal Democratic Party will benefit as well. That's Australia's actual libertarian party. If there are libertarian-leaning folks in the Liberal Party unhappy with the coalition, they could always go join up with the libertarians. They have a senator, David Leyonhjelm, whom we've interviewed here at Reason. He also tried to push forward legislation to legalize gay marriage recognition last year, but was unsuccessful for the same reason as this latest attempt.