After almost six hours of debate, the Coalition’s party room meeting this evening has reportedly failed to adopt a free vote on future marriage equality legislation with 66 to 33 votes.
Liberal and National Party MPs met at 3:15 p.m. to decide whether the Coalition would a position in favor of marriage equality and to allow a conscience vote.
The news comes influential backbencher Warren Entsch reportedly initiated discussion on whether Liberal MPs should be a allowed a conscience vote at a party room meeting this morning without their Nationals counterparts.
There was no decision on whether to allow the free vote, but (Prime Minister Tony) Abbott — who opposes marriage equality — then announced at lunchtime that he would be in the Coalition party room meeting this afternoon and that the government would reconvene specifically to discuss marriage equality.
According to SkyNews, front bench ministers such as Joe Hockey, Julie Bishop and Scott Morrison all pushed for a plebiscite after the 2016 Federal Election. A plebiscite is like a referendum, but is carried out because the issue at hand does not affect the Constitution. Results of a plebiscite will only advise the government and does not necessarily mean reform will be successful as they still need to debate it in Parliament.
It is also understood that if the Nationals were not present at the Coalition party room this evening, a free vote would have still failed with 46 to 31 votes.
Commentators have said that regardless of the results of the next edition, it would still be at least two years until marriage equality could become a reality due to the set Senate terms.
Meanwhile, Entsch has given notice for a cross-party marriage equality bill to be introduced in the House of Representatives next Monday, which was approved by the parliament’s selection committee.
Today’s developments come after months of intensified media coverage and pressure from advocates for the Coalition to adopt a conscience vote on marriage equality.
At the moment, backbench Coalition MPs such as Entsch can vote against marriage equality legislation without consequences, but frontbench ministers will have to resign should they defy party policy and cross the floor whenever a marriage equality bill is debated in Federal Parliament.
Earlier today, Australian Marriage Equality said the proposed introduction of Entsch’s marriage equality bill next Monday — co-sponsored by fellow Liberal MP Teresa Gambaro, along with Labor MPs Laurie Ferguson and Terri Butler as well as cross-bench MPs Andrew Wilkie, Cathy McGowan and the Greens’ Adam Bandt — would be a historic moment.
Abbott has repeatedly said the government had other reforms to focus on and that marriage equality was not a priority, which advocates saw as attempts to delay the issue despite polls consistently showing most Australians now support it.
There are three other marriage equality bills doing the rounds in Parliament House — one each from the Greens and Labor one from NSW (New South Wales) Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm.
With dissenting voices on both sides of parliament, a conscience vote for Coalition MPs — which Labor has until 2019 — is considered essential for marriage equality to get across the line. The Greens have said they will vote in favor of marriage equality.