A politician has explained how the heroism of a gay man who died in a terror attack inspired him to support equal marriage.
Liberal Party Senator Dean Smith, who is gay himself, explained this week how a tragic incident convinced him to campaign for same-sex marriage.
Two innocent people were killed in the attack on a Lindt cafe in Sydney in 2014, when a terrorist held staff and customers hostage.
One of those killed in the attack was cafe manager Tori Johnson, who died protecting others – and was survived by his partner of 14 years, Thomas Zinn.
As Australia provides no legal recognition to same-sex couples, the pair’s union was never recognised, and Mr Johnson’s death certificate states that he was single.
Senator Smith explained the tragedy made him realise how important equal marriage was.
He told ABC: “Gay and lesbian Australians were waiting to get married, and his life was taken in such a tragic way.
“That moved me and it reinforced my resolve and I came to the conclusion very quickly, with great clarity, that it’s now time to legislate by parliamentary vote same-sex marriage in Australia.”
Senator Smith backed equal marriage in 2015, and put forward a private member’s bill on the issue.
The rift between Smith’s faction of pro-LGBT lawmakers and right-wingers who oppose equal marriage has become a growing issue for the Liberals, threatening to bring down Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
At a meeting of Liberal MPs today, the party rejected a proposal to throw its support behind Smith’s bill.
It instead backed a plan to reintroduce a bill that would bring about a non-binding plebiscite (public vote) on the issue.
The plebiscite plan has been strongly criticised by LGBT activists, over its massive cost, non-binding nature and demands for state-funded ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns,
Campaigners have also raised fears it would incite homophobic public debate, while there is no guarantee it will actually lead to equal marriage becoming law.
A plebiscite bill was introduced by the government last year, but defeated in the Senate by 33 votes to 29.
Mr Turnbull is a personal supporter of same-sex marriage, but during his own leadership bid gave private assurances to his party’s anti-LGBT lobby that he would stick by the plebiscite plan.
He had faced the threat of a challenge himself over the crisis, with warnings his leadership would be “terminal” if a rebellion took place on equal marriage.