CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Two rival bills that would lift a ban on gay marriage in Australia were introduced into Parliament on Monday, weeks after the ruling Labor Party lifted its opposition to same-sex unions.
The two bills, sponsored by lawmakers from the Labor and the Greens parties, highlight tensions between the minority government partners that undermine the chances of gay marriage being endorsed by Parliament.
The bills are essentially the same. Both place same-sex couples on the same footing as heterosexuals, while allowing religious ministers the freedom to refuse to solemnize any marriages that are inconsistent with their beliefs.
No timetable has been set for a vote on either bill.
The Greens party has long called for legal recognition of gay marriage in Australia, while the major political parties have opposed it.
In introducing his party's legislation first on Monday, Greens lawmaker Adam Bandt told Parliament he was disappointed that Labor lawmakers had refused to cooperate on gay marriage.
"We know that as things stand, if either of these bills is put to a vote now, we know it will fail," Bandt said.
Labor members argue that gay marriage supporters need to provide a united front in Parliament to attract majority support rather than splinter the vote over details in the bills.
Labor lawmaker Stephen Jones said his bill was more likely to win the support of his party's lawmakers as well as those from the conservative opposition parties.
Jones said his bill "follows an international trend to end discrimination when it comes to marriage," noting that around 10 countries and several U.S. states allow same-sex marriage.
He also said that gay marriage law reform is a human rights issue, and that it is supported by most Australians.
Despite being proposed by a Labor lawmaker, Jones' bill is not considered to be government legislation. Therefore, it is not guaranteed the support of Labor lawmakers.
At their annual national conference in December, Labor delegates voted to overturn the party's long-standing opposition to same-sex marriage. But crucially, Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who opposes gay marriage, has decided not to bind Labor lawmakers to that party line.
Instead, she will allow Labor lawmakers to make a rare "conscience vote" on any bill that would legalize gay marriage. That means legislators can vote on the issue according to their personal beliefs. Usually lawmakers must vote according to the party's official position or risk expulsion from the party.
The Liberal Party-led opposition coalition remains opposed to gay marriage.
In 2004, the conservative coalition government amended federal law with the support of the Labor opposition to make clear that only a union between a man and a woman can be legally recognized as a marriage in Australia.
Liberal lawmaker Alex Hawke, a gay marriage opponent, said Monday that the issue is not about human rights, since same-sex couples face little if any discrimination under federal law.
"We're talking about a radical proposal to undermine a fundamental social institution that has been the basis of our society for thousands of years," Hawke told Parliament.