Australian PM resists gay marriage referendum push
SYDNEY - Agence France-Presse
AP PhotoAustralian Prime Minister Tony Abbott May 24 said his country would not follow Ireland's lead and hold a referendum on gay marriage, adding that any decisions would be made by parliament.
Ireland May 23 became the first nation in the world to approve same-sex marriage by referendum with an overwhelming 62 percent "Yes" vote.
"It really is a matter for the parliament," the Australian leader said when asked by reporters if a public poll should be held in Australian.
"Referendums are held in this country where there's a proposal to change the constitution. I don't think anyone's suggesting that the constitution needs to be changed in this respect.
"Under the constitution, questions of marriage are the preserve of the Commonwealth parliament."
Gay marriage was explicitly outlawed in Australia under a 2004 revision of the national Marriage Act by the conservative prime minister at the time, John Howard.
Same-sex couples can have civil unions or register their relationships in most states across Australia, but the government does not consider them married under national law.
Abbott's conservative government is opposed to gay marriage and the party has previously refused to allow a conscience vote among its members, in contrast to the Labor opposition.
A vote on the issue in 2012 was defeated 98 to 42 after Abbott did not allow his MPs, then in opposition, to break with party lines, rendering it a null prospect.
Abbott, whose sister Christine is gay, said he was aware of the strong feelings on the issue.
"Not for a second do I want to underestimate the feelings that people have on this issue, both for and against," he added.
"Even inside my own family, there are strong feelings both ways."
Liberal Democratic senator David Leyonhjelm, who introduced a same-sex marriage bill last year, said he believed there was growing support for legislative change.
"The traditional argument is equality... my argument is it's not the government's business what gender of person you're allowed to marry," Leyonhjelm told Sky News May 24.
A poll in July last year found that support for same-sex marriage in Australia had reached a record high, with 72 percent of citizens supporting marriage equality and about half of those strongly supporting it.
Australian Marriage Equality national convener Rodney Croome said "Ireland's vote for marriage equality is a win for Australia because it will increase momentum for marriage equality here."
"If traditionally-conservative Catholic Ireland can endorse marriage equality, Australia's political leaders have no more excuses for dragging the chain," Croome said.