Tony Abbott in 2010. (Connormah / CC BY-SA 3.0)

With about two-thirds of Australians supporting same-sex marriages, Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s uncompromising position against such unions has drawn the ire of many.

Numerous members of Abbott’s Liberal Party (which, despite the name, is conservative) are in favor of marriage equality. So is his sister, Christine Forster, who is on Sydney’s City Council and is gay. “I would like to get married,” said Forster, who has been engaged to her partner, Virginia Edwards, since 2013. “And at this point, I cannot.”

From the New York Times:

Mr. Abbott, a conservative leader who is a polarizing figure at the best of times, is doing badly in the polls, two years after taking office. His position on same-sex marriage is only one factor, but it is one that analysts say goes to the core of his political vulnerability.

“His issue is his inability to reach out beyond a core group of conservative voters,” said Jessica Elgood, a director at the polling firm Ipsos, who added that he had “very little appeal to women voters.”

Last month, after a six-hour meeting, Mr. Abbott declared that lawmakers in his conservative coalition would have to stick to the party line and oppose a bill to legalize same-sex marriage.

“There was strong support for the existing position, strong support for the position the coalition has held since 2004, that marriage is between a man and a woman,” Mr. Abbott said after the Aug. 11 meeting, at which the lawmakers decided not to allow a so-called conscience vote on the bill.

Other prominent Liberal politicians were dismayed by the move. Malcolm Turnbull, a cabinet minister often mentioned as a potential party leader, said he would have voted for the marriage bill if a conscience vote had been allowed.

The opposition Labor Party has seized on the issue, noting that it recently pledged to make same-sex marriage legal within 100 days if returned to power in the next elections. Last month, a former Labor prime minister, Julia Gillard, came out in support of same-sex marriage, drawing scorn from some who noted that she had opposed it while in office.

Mr. Abbott, a Jesuit-educated Catholic who spent three years studying for the priesthood, has called same-sex marriage a “very deeply personal” issue and one “on which decent people can differ.” He has proposed that Australian voters decide the issue directly, in a referendum or a nonbinding plebiscite. He has been vague about how such a vote would be conducted, but he said that it would probably be held after the next elections.

“I’m just saying that if there is to be change, it should be change that’s owned by the people, not just by the Parliament,” Mr. Abbott said in a radio interview.

Critics have called that an attempt to dodge the issue, and Liberals and others have assailed him for preventing lawmakers in the party from voting as they see fit on the bill.

Some Liberals were unhappy that Mr. Abbott included lawmakers from their smaller, more conservative coalition partner, the Nationals, in the Aug. 11 meeting, which they say skewed the result. (Even within the Nationals, there is dissent: A youth division of the party endorsed same-sex marriage last week.)

Mr. Abbott noted that opposition to same-sex marriage was in the coalition’s platform when it won the 2013 elections. Allowing lawmakers to contradict that, he said, would have left supporters feeling cheated (or “dudded,” as Australians say). “The last thing you should do is dud the people who voted for you,” he said.

An Ipsos survey conducted for Fairfax Media in August found that 69 percent of Australians favor making same-sex marriage legal, a finding that is broadly consistent with other recent polls. Rodney Croome, the founder and director of the lobby group Australian Marriage Equality, said Australian attitudes toward homosexuality began to shift in the 1980s and 1990s, when laws were introduced that barred discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, among other categories.

Read the full article here.

–Posted by Roisin Davis

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