NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell has declared his strong support for legalising same-sex marriage in Australia and challenged federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to allow a conscience vote on the issue.
In the first public comments confirming his support a day after the New Zealand Parliament voted to change national laws, the Premier said same-sex marriage was ”about family”.
While his preference was for the Federal Parliament to change the Marriage Act, if a parliamentary inquiry in NSW found the state could act alone, he would vote for legislation that may be introduced.
”My view – a view that I’ve come to in recent years – is that as a Liberal who believes that commitment and family units are one of the best ways in which society is organised, I support the concept of same-sex marriage,” Mr O’Farrell said.
”We should as governments be encouraging commitment. As societies we should be encouraging commitment. Because ultimately, people caring for each other work side by side with governments to create better communities.”
At the federal level, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has allowed Labor MPs a conscience vote, but she is not in favour of change. Mr Abbott, who is also opposed, has ruled out a conscience vote for Liberal MPs, a decision viewed as contributing to the failure of same-sex marriage bills last year.
Asked about Mr Abbott’s position, Mr O’Farrell argued Federal Parliament ”ought to reflect the community and allow same-sex marriage. I think in coming to that decision the Federal Parliament should do so by way of a conscience vote across all parties.”
In NSW, an upper house inquiry is considering whether the state is constitutionally able to legalise same-sex marriage. Last November, a cross-party working group gave notice it would introduce the State Marriage Equality Bill in the upper house.
In May last year the NSW upper house voted 22-16 in favour of a motion supporting same-sex equality, but many believe legislation to legalise same-sex marriage would be defeated in the lower house. An upper house Greens MP and member of the cross-party working group, Cate Faehrmann, said Mr O’Farrell’s advocacy could change that.
Mr O’Farrell said he was ”not going to campaign on the issue” but felt the New Zealand vote presented a ”suitable opportunity” to express his view.