Australian PM: Public vote on gay marriage ‘shouldn’t clash’ with election

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Australian PM Tony Abbott has signalled that he won’t allow a public vote on same-sex marriage to ‘clash’ with the next election.

A number of same-sex marriage bills were set to come before the Australian Parliament this month, but anti-gay marriage Prime Minister Tony Abbott failed to afford a free vote for his MPs – binding them to vote against equality.

He has also threatened to sack any ministers who break ranks on the issue, effectively killing the proposals outright – though suggesting there should be a plebiscite (public vote) on the issue.

Equality activists warned that the move could be an attempt to kick the issue into the long grass, and now the PM has admitted he doesn’t want the issue on the ballot at the next federal election – set to be held on or before 14 January 2017.

The PM told reporters: “Why shouldn’t we be able to debate this and decide this in its own right without being distracted by the sorts of arguments which you inevitably get during an election campaign?

“The fundamental decision is that this Government in the next term of parliament will put this very important question to the people for their decision.”

He also claimed that people have “strong views” on the issue – despite opinion polls finding overwhelming public opinion in favour of equality.

Given it is only a year and a half until the election, it is likely that any marriage vote will be delayed until after, rather than held sooner.

This means the first weddings are unlikely to come before mid-2017 or 2018.

The issue is set to be discussed at tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting – with Abbott taking fire from all sides of a tense negotiation.

Conservative members of his Liberal-National coalition are upset that a public vote is on the table at all, while some pro-gay members believe the matter should have been settled by a free vote in Parliament.