The Courier-Mail

MPS REJECT GAY MARRIAGE

Coalition rift widens as MPs reject conscience vote on same-sex union

- STEVEN SCOTT

COALITION MPs will not be allowed a free vote on gay marriage – killing off any chance of the laws being changed before the next federal election, due next year.

After a marathon meeting last night, Liberal and Nationals MPs voted 66-33 – endorsing the position held by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has spent months blocking any Coalition party room debate on the issue.

But Mr Abbott’s move to have the more conservati­ve Nationals MPs included in the vote angered his moderate colleagues. Senior minister Christophe­r Pyne said it was akin to “branch stacking”.

SAME-sex marriage will not become law until at least after the election, after Government MPs voted by two to one to reject a free vote.

But the issue has sparked fresh tensions in the Coalition after an almost six-hour-long debate overshadow­ed the Government’s agenda. The marathon Coalition party room meeting

also highlighte­d di- visions between ministers and the backbench. About half of all ministers supported a conscience vote on gay marriage while a clear majority of the backbench wanted to maintain the status quo.

Coalition MPs last night voted by 66 to 33 to oppose a free vote on gay marriage.

Questions now remain over whether Liberal MPs will cross the floor to support a cross-party gay marriage Bill to be moved by Queensland Liberal Warren Entsch and Labor’s Terri Butler.

Anger has also been aired among Liberals over Mr Entsch’s decision to spark the debate yesterday when many expected it to be next week.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has prevailed over Liberals who wanted to change the Marriage Act, but has also sparked renewed anger in his party over his political strategy.

Mr Abbott last night said Coalition MPs would only be bound to oppose gay marriage until the election and said he wanted a “plebiscite or constituti­onal convention” in the next term of parliament.

“If you support the existing definition of marriage between a man and a woman, the Coalition is absolutely on your side,” he said.

“But if you would like to see change at some point in the future, the Coalition is prepared to make that potentiall­y possible but the dispositio­n ... is that this should happen through a people’s vote rather than simply through a parliament’s vote.”

Senior ministers including Scott Morrison, Julie Bishop and Joe Hockey all argued for a plebiscite to decide on any change to the Marriage Act.

But other ministers spoke strongly in support of a free vote, according to sources in the meeting.

Communicat­ions Minister Malcolm Turnbull mounted a fierce defence of the right of Liberal MPs to vote with their conscience and flagged the possibilit­y that ministers such as himself could be forced to quit the frontbench if they wanted to support gay marriage.

Liberal MPs are allowed to cross the floor to oppose government policy while ministers are not given this freedom.

Mr Turnbull also told Lib-

If you support the existing definition of marriage between a man and a woman, the Coalition is absolutely on your side ... but if you would like to see change at some point in the future, the Coalition is prepared to make that potentiall­y possible

erals they had given Opposition Leader Bill Shorten a stick to batter them with.

Some Liberals are furious Mr Abbott allowed National Party MPs a say in whether to allow a conscience vote, even though a majority of Liberals ended up rejecting a free vote. Even some Liberals who oppose gay marriage have privately criticised Mr Abbott’s handling of the debate, with one describing it as a tactical “shambles”.

In a stinging rebuke of Mr Abbott’s decision to include the Nationals in the decision, Education Minister Christophe­r Pyne accused him of effectivel­y “branch stacking” to ensure a conscience vote would fail.

The confrontat­ion took place in a Liberal party room meeting after Mr Entsch called for his colleagues to be guaranteed a free vote. In a move that blindsided Liberals who expected the debate on whether to allow a free vote to be decided by their own party, Mr Abbott said the entire Coalition should have a say.

Mr Abbott’s sister Christine Forster, who is in a same-sex relationsh­ip, called for the party to stay “true to its liberal roots” by allowing a free vote.

PRIME MINISTER TONY ABBOTT

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 ??  ?? FREE VOTE: Prime Minister Tony Abbott (main) and Queensland MP Warren Entsch (left).
FREE VOTE: Prime Minister Tony Abbott (main) and Queensland MP Warren Entsch (left).
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