Gay MP warns Coalition conservatives: same-sex marriage cannot be ignored

180208 Nick (Sidney Morning Herald).jpg

A former Tory minister who helped bring about same-sex marriage in Britain has a warning for conservatives in the Turnbull government: same-sex marriage cannot be ignored, and it may even be good for you.

Nick Herbert, who led the "Freedom to Marry" campaign in Britain, is in Australia to support the Australian 4 Equality campaign and will make the case directly to MPs in Canberra next week as the Coalition prepares for an internal fight on same-sex marriage.

Former British prime minister David Cameron legalised same-sex marriage in 2013 after famously declaring: "I don't support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I'm a Conservative."

Speaking exclusively to Fairfax Media, Mr Herbert said the issue was divisive in the Cameron government at the time but same-sex marriage was universally accepted - including by conservative MPs - once it was made law.

"Opposition and concerns melted away," he said. "Far from the sky falling in, this was a reform that was accepted overnight and is now completely uncontroversial."

Mr Herbert, who is gay, said many of his colleagues in Britain who opposed the change now saw themselves as having been on the wrong side of history.

"Those MPs who voted against it actually found it rather embarrassing when they were invited to [marriage] ceremonies," he said. "I don't think many people at all – certainly no parliamentarians – would try and turn the block back."

The advice comes at a key time for Coalition MPs who may, in coming weeks, be forced to debate the party's position of holding a plebiscite on same-sex marriage, which was rejected by the Senate last year.

As Fairfax Media revealed at the weekend, a group of moderate Liberal MPs are preparing to agitate for a free vote in the Parliament, which would almost certainly see same-sex marriage legalised.

One of those MPs, Tim Wilson, will appear alongside Mr Herbert and Liberal councillor Christine Forster - sister of Tony Abbott - on a panel in Sydney on Friday."I support gay marriage because I'm a Conservative": David Cameron famously declared. 

Coalition MPs against same-sex marriage, including deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, have this week urged colleagues to stop discussing the issue and focus on the economy and childcare.

But Mr Herbert warned the topic could not be wished away.

"I understand about people's priorities, but that doesn't mean social issues can be ignored," he said.

"This is a trend that is happening worldwide and as public support for same-sex marriage increases, I think it is difficult for elected politicians to ignore that. So at some point this has to be grasped."


To read Nick's interview on the Sydney Morning Herald website, please click here.