By Rod Mcguirk, AP
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s political opposition hopes to harness momentum from the Irish gay marriage referendum after it proposed a law Monday that would recognize same-sex marriages, which the country’s conservative prime minister opposes.
Center-left Labor Party leader Bill Shorten became the first leader of a major Australian political party to back a bill to overturn a national ban on gay marriage.
Gay rights advocates fear that government lawmakers will be reluctant to support the bill as such a law would be seen as a political victory for Shorten over Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a former Roman Catholic seminarian and a staunch opponent of marriage equality.
Shorten told Parliament the law would not compel religious clerics to officiate at same-sex marriages. He called on Abbott to allow lawmakers in his ruling Liberal Party a free vote, rather than require them to back the party’s line in opposing marriage equality.
��Our laws should be a mirror reflecting our great and generous country and our free, inclusive society,�� Shorten said on introducing the bill.
Shorten’s deputy Tanya Plebersek seconded the bill, after no government lawmaker took up the offer to perform that official function as a gesture of bipartisanship support.
Abbott said his government was focused on Australia’s economic and national security rather than marriage law reform.
��Let’s see where the community debate goes. … There’s a range of views on both sides of the issue,�� Abbott told reporters shortly before Shorten introduced his legislation.
There is no timetable set for a vote, but Labor hopes it will happen this year.
Labor Senate leader Penny Wong, who is in a lesbian relationship, said that the recent referendum in which 62 percent of Irish voters called for their constitution to be changed to allow same-sex marriage was an important trigger for a similar debate in Australia.
Opinion polls show that most Australians support gay marriage. Gay rights advocates say Australia is now the only English-speaking developed country to ban same-sex marriage after the Irish vote.