christopher-pyneTHE Liberal Party may change its same-sex marriage policy to allow a conscience vote in the next parliament, federal frontbencher Christopher Pyne has suggested.

Tony Abbott has previously ruled out a conscience vote on the issue and Coalition MPs voted in line with party policy when same sex marriage legislation was defeated in parliament last year.

While allowing Labor MPs a conscience vote, Julia Gillard opposes legalising same-sex marriage.

Mr Pyne said the Liberal Party had gone to the last election with a policy of keeping the Marriage Act as it is, but this policy could change.

“In the next parliament we haven’t got a clear policy on a conscience vote,” the Coalition’s education spokesman told the Nine Network.

“The party room will get to decide that.

“We might well end up with some recognition of same-sex couples.”

NSW Liberal Premier Barry O’Farrell has declared his support for same-sex marriage and urged Mr Abbott to allow MPs a conscience vote on the issue.

His comments followed the New Zealand parliament’s 77 to 44 vote in favour of making same-sex marriage legal, in legislation backed by conservative Prime Minister John Key.

Mr Pyne acknowledged the public support for same-sex marriage.

“I think a lot of people believe recognising same-sex couples – especially for the children of same-sex couples – and supporting commitment is a positive step,” he said.

“Tony Abbott’s made it clear that he hasn’t changed his mind on same-sex marriage but the party room could well decide between now and the election or just after the election that we’ll have a conscience vote on it.”

Mr O’Farrell says he would prefer federal parliament to change the Marriage Act, but he is prepared to go it alone if a parliamentary inquiry in NSW finds the state can do so.

NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson commended Mr O’Farrell for declaring his support for a change to the Marriage Act for the first time and says Liberal MPs will now feel more comfortable voting for gay marriage.

Mr Robertson, who has a gay son, says it is now important for Mr Abbott to follow Mr O’Farrell’s lead.

Marriage equality advocates say Mr O’Farrell’s comments are an important breakthrough.

“Marriage equality is no longer a left/right issue but one that conservatives can support because it’s about equality, individual freedom and family values,” Australian Marriage Equality national director Rodney Croome said in a statement.

“With strong support from such a prominent Liberal we can see the light at the end of the tunnel on this important and urgent issue.”

He said the comments showed that the NZ vote was already having an impact in Australia.

Author: AAP
Publication: The Australian
Publication Date: April 19 2013