Tony Abbott Refuses to Take Sides in Gay Marriage Debate; Parliament May Test Political Will

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By Reissa Su | December 17, 2013 1:31 PM EST

Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott has declined to take side in the same-sex marriage debate as some of his colleagues continue to fight over the legalisation of gay marriage.

Liberal backbencher Cory Bernardi has called for the removal of Malcolm Turnbull from office after Mr Turnbull expressed his support for the ACT's Marriage Equality Bill. According to Senator Bernardi, there was "no room for ministers" to express personal views that were not in line with the party's policy.

When asked to comment on Senator Bernardi's comments on Dec. 17, Mr Abbott declined to get into the argument. He said he believes there is a "certain leeway extended to people" on the subject of gay marriage since the Liberal Party has a broad sense of views.

The prime minister said he was both friends with Mr Turnbull and Mr Bernardi. Mr Abbott said he believes one of the greatest things about Australia is having a free discussion even on challenging topics like the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

Marriage equality matter of political will

The High Court of Australia surprised the federal government when it said unequivocally that it is up to the federal Parliament to pass a law allowing gay marriage in Australia. Since the fate of marriage equality is on the hands of federal government, it is only a matter of political will.

Mr Turnbull said there is still hope for the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Australia with Federal since Parliament may consider changing marriage laws to permit same-sex couples to marry in Australia.

The High Court of Australia has decided to strike down the same-sex marriage laws of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) on Dec. 12. The ACT Marriage Equality law was passed in Oct but only took effect in Nov. Same-sex couples who wanted to get married in Australia were required to provide four weeks' notice before the ceremonies.

Since the High Court had invalidated ACT's gay marriage laws, the decision had closed the door on the chances of similar legislation being passed across the country. A positive High Court decision would have pressured the Coalition government to legalise same-sex marriage.

According to the High Court, the federal government has the power to legalise same-sex marriage. The court said the matter of legalization is reserved for the federal parliament. The ACT's marriage equality laws "cannot operate concurrently with the federal Act."

Mr Turnbull said the Coalition can agree to a conscience vote to decide on the matter. As for the matter of passing a new bill in favor of gay marriage, Mr Turnbull said it was too early to tell since most of the Parliament members are new.

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