AUSTRALIA: PM Tony Abbott Calls Meeting To Discuss Free Vote On Same-Sex Marriage Bill UPDATE: Free Vote Rejected

The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

Coalition MPs are holed up at Parliament House in a marathon meeting to debate same-sex marriage. Prime Minister Tony Abbott called a special joint Liberal-National parties meeting on Tuesday afternoon so government MPs could discuss whether they should have a free vote on the reform. However the decision to include National MPs – who are more conservative as a group – in the discussion, has concerned some supporters of same-sex marriage who believe it will sway the Coalition against a free vote. So far, MPs report that about 75 per cent of the speakers have been against a free vote and same-sex marriage. A senior Liberal source predicted there would be backlash against the Prime Minister’s leadership because of the joint party room move.

More from the Australian:

Tony Abbott is defending his handling of the same-sex marriage debate against criticism from his own colleagues about his leadership, as a fight on social policy turns into a test of his leadership. The Prime Minister has angered his Liberal backbenchers by forcing them to debate gay marriage in a sudden meeting with the Nationals on the matter designed to defeat the advocates for change. As of 5pm, there had been 30 speakers in the party room debate, with many more expected to speak into the night. Backbenchers have been invited to speak first and ministers last. Twenty-six MPs had spoken in favour of maintaining the Liberal Party’s existing policy, while four speakers – Warren Entsch, Teresa Gambaro, Sarah Henderson and Fiona Scott – had spoken in favour of adopting a neutral position, The Australian has been told. The conservative voices argued against changing the party’s policy midway through the parliamentary term, saying their constituents feel betrayed by the arrogant suggestion that the Coalition could change its approach. It is unclear whether the meeting will conclude with a vote or if the Prime Minister will summarise the mood of the room, as usually occurs.

UPDATE: From the Guardian:

The push for same-sex marriage to be legalised in Australia has suffered a setback after the governing Coalition decided against allowing its members a free vote in parliament. Tony Abbott, who firmly opposes same-sex marriage, called a combined meeting of the Liberals and Nationals in Canberra on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the Coalition’s stance ahead of the introduction of a cross-party bill. The prime minister’s decision to include the Nationals – who are more deeply opposed to same-sex marriage – angered numerous Liberals, including the leader of the house, Christopher Pyne, who reportedly likened it to “branch stacking”. Coalition members thrashed out the issue for more than five hours, with a half-hour interruption for a new senator’s first speech.

Not surprising, but still disappointing.