Labor figures are pushing for a vote on gay marriage, possibly as early as next week. Photo: Wolter Peeters
SENIOR Labor figures are pushing for a vote on gay marriage, possibly as early as next week, to clear the issue off the agenda.
But as five ministers argued in favour of legalising gay unions in yesterday's parliamentary debate, the Greens' Adam Bandt said an early vote would look like ''a cynical move on Labor's part''.
Chief government whip Joel Fitzgibbon - who earlier told Parliament gay marriage was an ''11th-order issue'' - said last night that the speakers' list for the debate on Labor MP Stephen Jones' bill in the House of Representatives ''was almost exhausted''.
''I'd expect the bill would be voted on sooner rather than later,'' he told The Age. ''I don't see any impediment to it being voted on next week.''
But leader of the House Anthony Albanese, a supporter of gay marriage who is yet to speak, would not put a time on the vote. ''We want to give everyone the opportunity to speak,'' he said. The vote would be some time between now and the end of the year.
The Jones bill will be defeated: Labor is divided and Coalition MPs are bound to vote against it.
Meanwhile, a bill co-sponsored by Labor senators Trish Crossin, Gavin Marshall, Louise Pratt and Carol Brown is expected to be debated and voted on in the Senate next week. There are now two private members' bills - one Labor and one from the Greens - in each house.
Senator Crossin said the Labor senators had introduced their bill because they wanted to see the issue debated in the Senate, and were pessimistic about the chances of the Jones bill passing the lower house.
Gay marriage campaigners would like to see the issue voted on first in the Senate, where there is more support for change.
While campaigners say they are hopeful a majority of senators could be gathered from Green senators, and sympathetic Labor senators, crossbenchers and coalition backbenchers, Senator Crossin admitted change was unlikely because the Coalition was bound to vote against it.
Mr Bandt, who also has a private member's bill, said: ''Labor needs to decide whether its priority is to get this off the political agenda or whether we'll actually get reform.
''I'm very worried that Labor's plan is just to get this to a vote as quickly as possible so that it's no longer an issue come the next federal election. And the problem with that is that it takes the pressure off Tony Abbott.'' Mr Bandt doesn't want an early vote in either house.
Acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan today refused to say whether the federal government plans to overturn a gay marriage law that could pass through the Tasmanian parliament.
Tasmania's lower house last month became the first chamber of an Australian parliament to pass a bill to legalise same-sex marriage.
The bill must now pass the upper house before the island state becomes Australia's first gay wedding destination.
Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare told Parliament he had switched his view on gay marriage. He had always believed that marriage was between a man and a woman. ''But society's views are not set in stone. They change, and so have mine.''
Schools minister Peter Garrett said that a desire by same-sex couples for the same recognition as others would not weaken the institution of marriage - if anything, it would strengthen it.
Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said the critics of legalising gay marriage were concerned about the fabric of our society and our values. ''In fact, to me the values that this bill promotes are conservative values. It is saying that if you love someone, you should form a bond with that person for life.''
She believed change inevitable, but not this year.
Minister for Mental Health and Ageing Mark Butler said he supported change because ''this is the right thing to do''.
Employment Participation Minister Kate Ellis said: ''In a question of inclusion or exclusion, I choose inclusion.''
Mr Fitzgibbon said he was not convinced that the current wording of the Marriage Act was discriminatory. ''From my perspective, the Marriage Act is an instrument for procreation between opposite-sex couples,'' he said.
''I do not think it matters much to our society, quite frankly, whether same-sex couples marry or not. I do not think it benefits them greatly and I do not think it disadvantages the rest of our society greatly either. I will probably be attacked for saying this, but I think this is a sort of 11th-order issue.''
Liberal frontbencher Malcolm Turnbull said that were there a Coalition free vote he would support the legislation.
''This whole issue drips with hypocrisy, and the pools are deepest at the feet of the sanctimonious. The reality is this: the threat to marriage, and to marriages, is not what gay people may do; it is lack of commitment, it is cruelty, it is indifference, it is adultery.''
He said the numbers were not there for change now - even if there were a free Coalition vote - and advocated Parliament legislate for civil unions.