What is a 'conscience vote,' and why is it so vital to Australia's same-sex marriage legislation?

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A majority of Australians support same-sex marriage, according to recent polls. But party politics might prevent the will of the people from being heard.

On Monday, Labor Opposition Leader Bill Shorten introduced a bill that would legalize marriages between two people of the same sex, overturning a 2004 ban. The move comes less than two weeks after Ireland passed gay marriage by popular vote.


A referendum on same-sex marriage would likely pass in Australia were it put to popular vote: A 2014 Crosby Textor poll reveals that 72 percentt of Australians support extending marriage rights to their LGBT peers—up 8 percentage points from a Galaxy Research poll taken two years prior.


But that popular support won't necessarily translate to a vote in Parliament unless Prime Minister Tony Abbott permits the legislature to hold a conscience vote.

A conscience vote, or free vote, allows MPs to vote, well, according to their conscience. Otherwise, Australian politicians are forced to toe the party line when they cast their ballot or risk repercussions.

Although Abbott denied such a vote on the matter three years ago, recent comments suggest that he will allow one this go-around.


"Let's see where the community debate goes," Abbott told reporters Monday. "There's a range of views on both sides of the issue."

That's pretty much a godsend for the man who once likened same-sex marriage to a "fashion of the moment." Glad to know he's since realized that marriage rights aren't the same thing as Pogs and Tamagotchis.


Bad at filling out bios seeks same.