Dalila Ali Rajah
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Australian Prime Minister Doubles Down on Antigay Position

Australian Prime Minister Doubles Down on Antigay Position

Following Tuesday's decision to enforce his party's opposition to same-sex marriage, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has gone one step further, saying any ministers who break ranks will be forced to resign their positions

"It is ... the standard position of our party that if a frontbencher cannot support the party’s policy, that person has to leave the frontbench," Abbott said on Australia's ABC radio Wednesday morning.

Frontbenchers sit in the front row of parliament, and are ministers or shadow ministers — members of the opposition or minority party — responsible for specific areas of Australian government similar to American congressional committee chairs.

The prime minister does not support marriage equality and indicated he wants to postpone tackling the issue until after next year's elections, and suggested holding a nonbinding referendum at that time. 

The opposition leader vying for Abbott's job in 2016, however, said in a tweet that the prime minister is looking back, not forward. 

Abbott called a special party meeting Tuesday to discuss whether members should be able to vote their conscience on a proposed bill to legalize same-sex marriage. While 72 perecent of the Australian public supports marriage equality, after six hours of debate, the conservative ruling party decided to continue to enforce its opposition. Abbott came under fire for including in his threat not only his own Liberal Party members, but also members of the extremely conservative National party who form the other half of the governing coalition.

"I’ve come to the view — I believe this is the party room view — that this is the last term in which the Coalition party room can be bound, although we will definitely maintain the current position for the life of this term," Abbott said yesterday. "Going into the next election, we will finalise another position. The disposition of the party room this evening is that our position going into the next election should be that in a subsequent term of parliament, this is a matter that should rightly be put to the Australian people."

Abbott's statement has left a little wiggle room for members who support marriage equality, by acknowledging that if the matter comes before Parliament in 2016, they will allow a conscience vote. The prime minister, however, seems to favor a plebiscite — a nonbinding vote of Australians meant to advise the government on the will of the general population.

In May, Ireland became the first nation in the world to pass marriage equality legislation via popular vote. That victory at the ballot box has spurred even more support for marriage equality in Australia.

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