Liberal Senator pushes for gay marriage vote

Colin Brinsden
WA senator seeking parliament gay vote

Just when the Turnbull government would have hoped to have brushed aside the issue of same-sex marriage for the time being, a Liberal senator is about to re-open what has been a deeply divisive matter for the coalition.

West Australian senator Dean Smith is working on a plan to end the "embarrassment" of the nation and legalise same-sex marriage through a conscience vote in parliament, defying his own government's policy of a plebiscite on the issue.

Senator Smith, who is gay, says his private member's bill is well advanced and he intends taking it to the party room for discussion in the near future.

"The bill is important because it will allow the Liberal Party to revisit the issue of marriage once and for all before the next election," Senator Smith told Seven West's Sunday Times.

Only last month, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was forced to rule out a parliamentary vote, even though he is a supporter of same-sex marriage.

That followed a leaked audio of senior frontbencher Christopher Pyne telling supporters a policy change on marriage would come "sooner than everyone thinks" but later apologised for his "ill-chosen and unwise" remarks.

Labor supports a conscience vote, rejecting the government's plebiscite proposal.

"A free vote is the fastest, least expensive, least harmful way to achieve marriage equality," Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said on Sunday.

"Dean Smith agrees with Labor and I know deep down the prime minister agrees with Labor."

He said achieving marriage equality would be a legacy Mr Turnbull could rightly be proud of.

However, an Essential Research poll last week found while almost two-thirds of respondents support same-sex marriage, well over half believe there should be a national vote.

Senator Smith concedes the coalition's plebiscite position is clear, so people should not underestimate the challenge of securing a free vote on the issue.

But he said a Senate report into the government's own draft marriage bill as part of its plebiscite proposal is the blueprint for his own bill and the "most likely pathway for success".

His bill would allow exemptions for religious and other celebrants who did not want to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony.

Senator Smith's endeavours were welcomed by marriage equality advocates and urged politicians to get on with their job.

"Marriage equality is about the dignity and status of hundreds of thousands of Australians, our family members, friends and work colleagues," Australian Marriage Equality's Alex Greenwich said in a statement.

"Today's news shows that more and more politicians are beginning to understand this."

Just.equal's Rodney Croome congratulated Senator Smith but urged him to consult with the LGBTI community to ensure any proposed exemptions do not go further than the LGBTI community would accept.