Senator Dean Smith plans to take a bill for same-sex marriage to the Liberal party room in a push to get the government to abandon its plebiscite and conduct a free vote before the end of the year.
Smith, a Liberal senator for Western Australia, told The Sunday Times that he was working on a private member's bill that he will take to the party room in the near future.
“I don’t doubt the complexity same-sex-marriage presents for some Liberals, but I am not asking people to change their mind on the issue," Smith told the Perth newspaper.
“Instead, we should allow everyone the right to vote according to their own conscience. The coalition’s position is clear – a plebiscite – so people should not underestimate the challenge of securing a free vote on the issue.
"Many [Australians] do support the matter being put before the parliament and finally resolved. The time is now."
Smith's announcement comes two weeks after cabinet minister Christopher Pyne said to a meeting of Liberal moderates that same-sex marriage may come "sooner than everyone thinks".
In response to the commotion over Pyne's comments, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull repeatedly pledged that the government will not budge from its current position of a national vote on same-sex marriage.
If this remains the case, a same-sex marriage bill could only pass the House of Representatives if government MPs cross the floor to team up with Labor and the cross bench to suspend standing orders and force a vote.
You can read an explainer of what exactly would need to happen here.
Speaking to the BuzzFeed News' political podcast Is It On? last month, Smith said he did not want a situation where people have to cross the floor and the "ideal situation" is for the government to grant a free vote.
Smith told The Sunday Times his bill would be modelled on the proposals put forward by a cross-party Senate committee in February. Smith was a central member of that inquiry, along with Labor senator Louise Pratt and Greens senator Janet Rice.
The committee suggested a same-sex marriage bill should keep the current exemption for religious ministers to refuse to solemnise any marriage they like, as well as granting the same exemption to a new category of "religious civil celebrants".
The proposal was largely welcomed by same-sex marriage activists at the time.
Australian same-sex marriage lobby group, The Equality Campaign, said in a statement on Sunday that Smith's proposed bill showed there was growing political will to deliver marriage equality in this parliament.
“The recent multi-partisan and unanimously supported Senate inquiry on marriage equality legislation provides a clear pathway for this reform," said co-chair of Australian Marriage Equality Alex Greenwich.
“We are grateful that Senator Smith, a key member of that inquiry, is working to turn that into a bill to allow all Australians to marry the person they love in the country we all cherish."
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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