Politics

This Liberal Senator Has Defied His Party And Drafted A Bill To Legalise Marriage Equality

"The time is now."

Liberal senator Dean Smith has confirmed he is working on a bill to legalise marriage equality, in defiance of his party’s official position on the issue.

The Senator for Western Australia, who is openly gay, told Perth’s Sunday Times that he planned to bring the private member’s bill to the Liberal party room in the coming months, with the hopes of achieving a free vote in parliament by the end of the year.

“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,” said Smith, adding that many Australians felt “embarrassed” by the nation’s lack of progress.

“I am not asking people to change their mind on the issue,” he said. “Instead, we should allow everyone the right to vote according to their own conscience.”

Smith’s bill will likely cause further headaches for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who last month reaffirmed the government’s position that no parliamentary vote on marriage equality could be held until the public had their say via a plebiscite. Turnbull was forced to defend the policy after Defence Minister Christopher Pyne was recorded at a party function saying marriage equality would happen “sooner than everyone thinks”, which really, really pissed off his conservative colleagues.

The proposed plebiscite, a relic from the Tony Abbott era, has been condemned by marriage equality advocates as an unnecessary delaying tactic that would inflict psychological harm on the LGBTIQ community. The policy appeared dead in the water after enabling legislation was voted down in the Senate last November. At the time, Smith abstained from the vote, declaring that “plebiscites are not and should not be a feature of our democratic culture in Australia.

In February, a Galaxy Poll found that 71 percent of voters, including 64 percent of Liberal voters, would look more favourably on the Turnbull government if it abandoned the plebiscite and held a free vote in parliament instead. Nevertheless, the plebiscite remains a key demand of conservative Liberal and National Party parliamentarians, whose support Turnbull needs to maintain control of the government.

In light of all this, the odds of Smith’s bill getting over the line seem fairly slim. Despite this, he insists that the time for marriage equality has come. “This is not an academic or theoretical issue,” he said. “This goes to the heart of how some Australians could be free to live their lives according to their own choices.”