Member for Gippsland supports conscience vote on same sex marriage

Member for Gippsland Darren Chester has remained tight-lipped about which way he would vote on a same sex marriage bill, but has reiterated his support for a conscience vote on the issue.

Federal Opposition leader Bill Shorten will introduce same-sex marriage legislation to Parliament next week through a private member’s bill, co-sponsored by his deputy Tanya Plibersek.

Mr Chester, whose electorate covers Traralgon, Morwell and Churchill, through to far-east Gippsland, said he would not make any announcements on which way he would vote until he saw the draft legislation.

“I strongly believe it should be a conscience vote and I will carefully consider points for and against raised by local residents over the past seven years,” Mr Chester said.

He said the vote was not just about his personal view.

“It’s about gauging community views and deciding what’s in the best interest of our nation today and perhaps more importantly into the future.

“As a local MP there has been a noticeable shift towards support of same sex marriage in my electorate.

“I expect trend to continue as younger voters are more relaxed about the issue and many older voters have clearly changed their minds.”

Mr Chester’s stance on gay marriage relaxed in 2013 when he indicated he was unsure how he would vote on a same sex marriage bill.

A 2013 survey conducted by Mr Chester and returned by 3000 of his constituents showed 66 per cent were opposed to same sex marriage.

Twenty-six per cent of respondents said they supported gay marriage.

“As a matter of political consistency and personal integrity I took a position to the 2010 election that I was opposed to changes to the marriage act and that’s how I voted in the 43rd parliament,” Mr Chester said yesterday.

“I deliberately refined that position before the 2013 election and put up a public statement (on my website).”

Gippsland Rainbow Collective secretary Jo Parker said the advocacy group supported a conscience vote on same sex marriage.

“We already have anti discrimination laws in place, yet we do have a discriminating law when it comes to marriage equality,” Ms Parker said.

“I think Darren (Chester) appears to have softened his stance a little bit and he is prepared to explore the conscience vote, which I think is a great step forward for him and I hope he continues to evolve.”

The Express has sought comment from Federal Member for McMillan Russell Broadbent, whose electorate takes in the Moe area.