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Australian opposition leader won’t force his MPs to vote for same-sex marriage

Joe Williams April 30, 2015
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Australian opposition leader Bill Shorten has rejected calls from his party to whip its MPs to support same-sex marriage.

The country is set to debate a same-sex marriage bill this year, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s governing Liberal Party mostly opposed, and Mr Shorten’s Labor Party mostly in favour.

The Labor party currently operates a conscience vote – meaning that members of the party can choose how they vote for themselves.

Earlier this week, Mr Shorten’s deputy Tanya Plibersek said  she thinks all Labor MPs should be forced to vote in favour of gay marriage, as this is the party’s official policy on the matter.

However, Mr Shorten rejected the calls to whip his MPs in favour on the issue.

He said: “I think we have waited too long in this country for marriage equality.

“I do believe that the best way to achieve it, though, is not to force people to agree with it but to convince people.

“I certainly have a view, though, that the best way to win the argument on marriage equality is to convince people not force them, but Tanya’s got a very long track record of speaking on this issue.”

While many members of Labor’s left strongly support same-sex marriage, the push for a binding vote is not universally accepted within the party.

Some members of the party are concerned that removing a conscience vote would lead to unnecessary in-fighting.

Instead, Mr Shorten said that he recognised people had different views on the topic and insisted that the focus should remain on pressuring Tony Abbott to allow Coalition MPs to vote freely on the issue, rather than block vote against equal marriage.

He said: “What are they going to do, compel people to vote against marriage equality when they believe in it? I think that’s the challenge here.”

PM Tony Abbott – who is a strong opponent of same-sex marriage – has repeatedly refused to guarantee that MPs will be able to vote with their conscience.

In the UK, the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats all avoided whipping their MPs on the issue, leading to dissent from MPs in all three parties.

Last month, an advisor to pro-gay Australian Senator David Leyonhjelm, shared anti-gay hate mail their office had received to her Facebook page.

The letter accuses him of “trying to legalise sodomy” – which is not illegal in Australia, and contains a death threat: “someone should give you a blast of shotgun”.

Related topics: Australia, Australia, Bill Shorten, equal marriage, Gay, LGBT, Tony Abbott, vote

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