THE Premier, Barry O’Farrell, will allow Liberal MPs a conscience vote on a bill to legalise same-sex marriage, which a cross-party group of MPs will introduce this year. Liberal, Nationals, Labor and Greens MPs have formed a working party to draw up a bill to allow gay and lesbian couples in NSW to marry, if legislation before Federal Parliament is voted down, as expected.
The group will follow the lead of other states, including Tasmania and South Australia, in pursuing same-sex marriage on a state basis. Mr O’Farrell confirmed MPs would not be bound to vote on party lines, just as he did when a symbolic motion supporting same-sex marriage came before the upper house in May. ”The Premier would follow past practice and allow a conscience vote on any such legislation,” a spokesman said.
NSW Nationals leader Andrew Stoner has confirmed Nationals MPs will also be allowed a conscience vote. Mr O’Farrell has declined to state his personal view on same-sex marriage. In a joint statement, the Liberal MP for Coogee, Bruce Notley-Smith, the upper house members Trevor Khan (National), Penny Sharpe (Labor), Cate Faehrmann (Greens) and the lower house independent Clover Moore said they wanted to work together to legalise same-sex marriage. Mr Notley-Smith, who is the first openly gay man to hold a seat in the NSW Legislative Assembly, said the issue was not one only for left-wing parties.
”Marriage is a conservative institution. I think that stable, committed, loving relationships are what Liberals believe in and I think this is a logical extension of that,” he said. ”I’ve been in a relationship with the same person for 21 years and I feel I should have the right to have my relationship acknowledged and recognised, just as those of my brothers have been.” Mr O’Farrell’s decision contrasts directly with the stance of the federal Liberal leader, Tony Abbott, who is not allowing a conscience vote despite calls within the party for him to do so.
Without a conscience vote among Coalition members, none of the three bills before the Federal Parliament is expected to pass. Mr Abbott said his party’s position before the last election was that marriage was between a man and a woman and ”we’ll be sticking to our commitments”. The Liberal frontbencher Malcolm Turnbull has said that while he would not cross the floor on the issue, he would support gay marriage if given a free vote. The NSW Opposition Leader, John Robertson, has already said he will allow Labor MPs a conscience vote on the issue.
Note: Same sex marriage legislation was defeated in the Federal House of Representatives on 19 September and today in the Federal Senate on the 20 September 2012. However it seems that this matter will not end there and so we will observe further developments in due course…