Head to Head

Who's saying what on same-sex marriage?

A stoush is brewing within the Labor Party over the controversial issue of same-sex marriage, as supporters of both sides prepare to air their views at the National Conference next month. So who's saying what on which side?

As it stands it's likely that federal Labor MPs will be given a conscience vote on the issue, after Julia Gillard wrote in the Fairfax papers on Monday supporting that position.

That's also the view of many on the powerful Labor Right; a middle ground stance between those on the Left who want to see the Marriage Act changed and those further to the Right pressing hard to keep it as is.

"Given the personal nature of the issue and the deeply held beliefs, I believe that in future it is appropriate that a conscience vote flow to Labor MPs," wrote Gillard, who opposes gay marriage. "They should be free to vote in Parliament according to their own values and beliefs."

NSW Labor Right powerbroker Mark Arbib backs that call, telling The Australian recently that he thinks the bill can pass if all MPs on both sides are given a conscience vote. Arbib is a supporter of gay marriage.

Inside NSW Labor there is some backing for same-sex marriage, mainly from figures on the Left like Anthony Albanese (who said earlier this year that a conscience vote was "appropriate") and Tanya Plibersek, but no binding support.

Victorian Right heavy David Feeney also wants a free vote, writing in Crikey last week that he had changed his stance to support a change in the Marriage Act.

Over on the Left there is a push to bypass a conscience vote and advocate a change in the Labor platform. They're clearly concerned the vote will fail if those on the opposition benches toe the party line, as it seems unlikely that Tony Abbott will give his members a free vote.

Left-wing convenor Doug Cameron said recently the conscience vote was a political tactic to ''satisfy some of the more extreme views on the right of the party''.

Victorian Labor MP Martin Foley said Gillard's position was ''very disappointing and slightly disingenuous'', while Senator Gavin Marshall said she was ceding power to the "minority conservative element".

In an op-ed published in the Fairfax press Mental Health and Ageing Minister Mark Butler wrote that he would be opposing a conscience vote and pressing for change.

But powerful SA Right convenor Don Farrell does not support same-sex marriage, preferring to maintain the status quo. He's joined by fellow Catholic Right powerbroker Shop Distributors and Allied Employees Union head Joe de Bruyn in arguing vehemently against change.

"Whenever the institution of marriage broke down, as it did in the Roman Empire, society did not survive," he told the Victorian state conference recently.

Fellow right-wing union heavy Paul Howes has said he will back same-sex marriage at the Darling Harbour conference, despite it not reflecting the position of the Australian Workers' Union.

Of the lobbyists left-wing group GetUp! Have been pushing hard for same-sex marriage as have organisation Australian Marriage Equality. The Greens have also made it clear they want Labor to change its stance on the issue.

They all argue that the public is in support of change, something that has been reflected in recent polls by Neilsen which shows support running at 62%.

The loudest group opposing change is Australian Christian lobby, led by managing director Jim Wallace.

"The PM has clearly tried to deal with the political reality of a section of the party that seems hell-bent on losing forever a huge proportion of the population that cares deeply about marriage, in order to satisfy its deconstructionists' ideology," Wallace said recently.

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