Australian opposition party to propose gay marriage law

By : Wire Report
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CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s political opposition plans to harness momentum from the Irish gay marriage referendum by proposing a law on June 1 that would recognize same-sex marriages, something the country’s conservative prime minister is against.

Center-left Labor Party leader Bill Shorten will become the first leader of a major Australian political party to back a bill to overturn a national ban on gay marriage.

Gay rights advocates fear that government lawmakers will be reluctant to support the bill as such a law would be seen as a political victory for Shorten over Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a former Roman Catholic seminarian and a staunch opponent of marriage equality.

Labor Senate leader Penny Wong, who is in a lesbian relationship, said Monday that the recent referendum in which 62 percent of Irish voters called for their constitution to be changed to allow same-sex marriage was an important trigger for a similar debate in Australia.

Opinion polls show that most Australians support gay marriage. Gay rights advocates say Australia is now the only English-speaking developed country to ban same-sex marriage after the Irish vote.

“It’s quite clear … the community’s attitude has shifted substantially over the last 10 years and, in fact, the community is a long way ahead of the Parliament and a long way ahead of our prime minister,” Wong told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

In 2004, the Parliament changed the Marriage Act with the unanimous support of the ruling conservative coalition and Labor to make it clear that only a man and a woman could marry.

But Labor has since changed its stance.

A draft law to allow same-sex marriage proposed by a junior Labor lawmaker in 2012 while Labor was in government was soundly rejected by the House of Representatives, 98 votes to 42.

Abbott was then opposition leader and the then Prime Minister Julia Gillard was gay marriage opponent.

Labor lawmakers were allowed to vote according to their consciences, while lawmakers in Abbott’s Liberal Party were required to back the party’s line in opposing marriage equality.

Abbott says the party has yet to decide whether his party’s lawmakers would he allowed a free vote when the issue next comes up in Parliament.

Analysts say that since Abbott’s authority was weakened by a leadership challenge from within his party in February, he may be unlikely to anger marriage equality advocates within government ranks by denying them a free vote.

Even with all lawmakers allowed a free vote, gay rights advocates say the result would be close.

“We are almost there,” Shorten told reporters before he introduced his bill to Parliament. “I believe that if there is a free vote in the Parliament of Australia, that marriage equality will pass.”

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