Free vote on marriage equality no go

Member for Wannon Dan Tehan. Picture: Rob Gunstone
Member for Wannon Dan Tehan. Picture: Rob Gunstone

The government will make a doomed second attempt to enact a plebiscite on same-sex marriage after Liberal MPs rejected an internal push to ditch the policy and allow a free vote on Monday afternoon.

A meeting, called by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, was sparked by Liberal Senator Dean Smith releasing a marriage equality bill to be introduced to parliament and calling for a free vote on the issue.

Wannon MP Dan Tehan told The Standard before the meeting it was important his party honoured its election commitment for a plebiscite on same-sex marriage.

“As the prime minister has made very clear, the party room is the best place for these types of issues to be aired and that’s why he’s called the party room meeting,” he said.

“One thing I would ask is whatever the outcome my hope is that all my colleagues will then respect the outcome of the party room.”

Mr Tehan confirmed his position on the issue had not changed.

“What I said to the electors of Wannon before the last election was I supported a plebiscite and that I would respect the outcome of that plebiscite,” he said. “Having made that clear commitment to the people of Wannon, I will be honouring that commitment.”

South-west dairy farmer Jason Smith told The Standard he was “feeling emotional” before the the Liberal Party meeting.

“You can feel it it’s possible, it’s so close,” Mr Smith said.

The gay Simpson farmer, whose recent plea for marriage equality sparked national interest, said the senator’s bill was comprehensive and protected religious freedoms, which he understood.

“We need this to happen and the ball is rolling,” Mr Smith said. “As religious person myself, I understand why some churches say they don’t want to marry gay couples. Marriage is a law in society and it’s marriage under the eyes of the law and under the government of Australia, not under the church.”

Mr Smith said he admired the strength of Queensland Liberal MP Warren Entsch, who is a strong supporter of marriage equality, and Senator Smith for changing his view.

“It shows the growth in people and the ability for people to see the hurt that us not moving forward with marriage equality does to LGBTI people,” he said.

He said recent discussion around marriage equality gave a taste of the harm that would be caused to LGBTI people if a plebiscite was held – leading to “irreversible” hurt.

Mr Smith said the Liberal Party would be punished at the next election if it did not listen to the “overwhelming voice” of the community.