CANBERRA, Australia -- The chairman of an Australian parliamentary committee that examined gay law reform said Monday that he believes lawmakers will maintain a ban on same-sex marriage when the contentious issue is voted on later this year.
The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs received an unprecedented number of responses on the question – more than 276,000 – and 64 percent of them were in favor of allowing gay marriage. But the committee's eight members were divided and made no recommendation in their report published Monday.
Committee chairman Graham Perrett, who has two gay brothers and supports gay marriage, said he does not believe a majority of lawmakers share his views.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard, an opponent of gay marriage, will allow members of her center-left Labor Party to make personal choices on how they vote on the legislation. But opposition leader Tony Abbott, a staunch Roman Catholic, will insist that members of his conservative Liberal Party reject gay marriage.
Perrett, a Labor lawmaker, said he believes lawmakers would reject gay marriage even if Abbott allowed members of his party a free vote.
"My reading of it is that would not be the case" that gay marriage would be allowed, Perrett told reporters.
Perrett noted that the captain of Australia's rugby team, David Pocock, supported gay marriage.
"You know when a rugby player is more progressive than many of the parliamentarians, even within the Labor Party, you know that Australia has changed significantly," Perrett said.
Greens lawmaker Adam Brandt, who has introduced one of the two gay marriage bills, said Monday that he will not allow his bill to be voted on unless Abbott allows his party to vote according to their consciences.
Brandt said he was more optimistic than Perrett that the legislation would pass.
Labor lawmaker Stephen Jones said he expected his own gay marriage bill will be voted on this year.
"We're short of a majority at this point and a lot of that is contingent on whether the Liberals are given a free vote," Jones said. "I can't see that happening in the near term, but these things can change."
Australian law was amended in 2004 with the unanimous support of Labor and the conservatives to make clear that only a union between a man and a woman can be legally recognized as a marriage.
But Labor changed it policy at its annual national conference in December last year.