Gay marriage. 17 November 2014 Photo Gemima Harvey/ Coffs Coast Advocate
Gay marriage. 17 November 2014 Photo Gemima Harvey/ Coffs Coast Advocate Gemima Harvey/Coffs Coast Advoca

Same-sex marriage tells young and gay they are equal

GIVING young gay Australians marriage equality tells them that they are not alone, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said on Monday.

Mr Shorten introduced his private members' bill on marriage equality after, he said, he thought: "If the Irish can do it, why can't we?".

The bill would change the words in the Marriage Act from being between a man and a woman, to be a "union of two people".

It would also insert the option of celebrants using the term "partner" instead of "husband and wife" during marriage ceremonies, if the couple preferred.

Introducing the bill, Mr Shorten said the moment was here to "let this law reflect the nation we want to see in the mirror: generous, smart, modern and above all, equal".

By bringing on the bill, Mr Shorten has also pre-empted an expected debate at the Labor Party's imminent national conference, where delegate motions were expected to include developing an official party position supporting marriage equality.

Mr Shorten instead has supported a conscience vote in the Labor caucus, rather than a definitive party line on the contentious issue.

While he has called on Prime Minister Tony Abbott to allow a conscience vote in the Liberal Party, the prospect is becoming increasingly unlikely.

Mr Abbott said Monday that marriage equality was "an important issue", but he was more concerned about getting the latest budget through parliament.

Debate on Mr Shorten's bill was adjourned for a later parliamentary sitting.