Editor’s note: This article originally ran on the website of the Star Observer, a Sydney-based LGBT newspaper. The publication has allowed the Washington Blade to repost its coverage of the Australian same-sex marriage debate.
Warren Entsch introduced his cross-party marriage equality bill to the House of Representatives this morning with a plea that same-sex relationships should no longer be officially legislated as being of a lesser worth.
The backbench Coalition MP also took a swipe at members of his own party who have spent the morning trying to move the political focus away from marriage equality.
However, following last week’s decision by the Coalition party room to maintain the ban on Liberal and National MPs voting for marriage equality, Entsch’s bill would be likely to fail should it ever come to a ballot.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said a decision on how to move forward with a “people’s vote” will be made in the coming weeks.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was in the chamber to hear Entsch’s speech as was Education Minister Christopher Pyne and Communications Minister Malcom Turnbull.
No other government cabinet ministers were in attendance.
Introducing the bill, Entsch said the institution of marriage was about two people making a commitment to a monogamous relationship.
“Who is to say that one person’s love for another person is somewhat lesser because of their gender make-up?” he said.
The Leichhardt MP from far north Queensland cited a Sydney gay couple who were in their 80s.
“They, now is their sunset years, would ideally like to formalize their relationship through the institution of marriage before it’s too late,” Entsch said.
“After an almost 50 year commitment their relationship is still regarded as second rate under Australian law.
“This is not good enough.”
In recent weeks, anti-marriage equality lobby groups, such as the Marriage Alliance, have focused on the effect same-sex marriage might have on children.
Entsch turned the tables on the arguments and said the rights of the more than 6,000 children living with same-sex parents needed to be considered.
“The best environment for these children is within a loving family unit and those children are deserving of equal protections within that unit,” he said.
This morning, a succession of ministers tried to reset the national debate away from Coalition internal wrangling on marriage equality and onto the economy.
Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce even lamented the debate surrounding same-sex marriage had pushed the apparently good news about high cattle prices down the priority list.
Entsch was having none of it: “Irrespective of what people think about priority, it is an issue that is very, very, very important to many people in our society, within the gay community and the family and the friends supporting the rights of those individuals.”
The prime minister, who was in Victoria this morning, remained coy on whether he favored a non-binding plebiscite or referendum as he continued to refer to a future poll as a “people’s vote.”
However, despite calls from LGBTI advocates and some within his own party to hold any vote as quickly as possible, Abbott is determined to wait until after the next election.
“The Coalition party room made a very strong decision last week that we would keep faith with the electorate through this term of Parliament and in the next term of parliament this matter will go to the people for a decision,” he said.
He said the government’s focus was on “jobs, growth and community safety.”
Abbott added that there were “a few loose ends” on a vote and these would be “tied up in the next few weeks.”
He admitted a plebiscite held independently of a general election could cost more than $100 million.
Yesterday, a new opinion poll from Fairfax/Ipsos showed a record of 69 per cent of Australians now support marriage equality, including 53 percent of Coalition voters.
Entsch’s bill this morning had the support of fellow Queensland Coalition MP Teresa Gambaro, as well as Labor MPs Laurie Ferguson and Terri Butler, Greens MP Adam Bandt and independent MPs Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan.