Gippsland MP and parliamentary secretary Darren Chester has become the first Nationals MP to openly throw his support behind same-sex marriage.
“I support a conscience vote,” he said.
“I think that conscience vote should occur in the spring sitting of Parliament and it’d be my intention, if there was a conscience vote awarded, to vote yes.”
Mr Chester said he had tested the mood in his electorate and was reflecting a change that had occurred during the past seven years.
“It’s not the biggest issue in my electorate by any stretch, but it’s a significant issue for some people,” he said.
“I think the momentum is growing in the community. A lot of younger voters who I talk to, perhaps in secondary school or forums, say they’ve moved on, they just want this to happen, that the Parliament of Australia should vote that way.”
People in Traralgon in Mr Chester’s eastern Victorian electorate who spoke to 7.30 seemed relaxed about the prospect of same-sex marriage.
“Love’s love,” one man said. “And you can’t get in the road of that.”
“If people are happy like that… why not?” an elderly woman said.
“I have got a granddaughter that’s in a same sort of a situation and I think, well, she’s happy. That’s it.”
Another woman said: “I don’t see a reason why somebody can’t be married to whoever they want. What difference does it make?”
National Party members Anthony Mayer and Grant Madden, who are a gay couple, are in Mr Chester’s electorate and say they are proud their local MP has changed his mind.
“Good leaders have convictions and follow them,” Mr Mayer told 7.30.
“Great leaders assess those convictions and check if they’re still correct.
“I admire Darren and others in the National Party locally for assessing this issue, looking at how it impacts people and really working out what effect it will actually have.”
Chester ribbed for being ‘only Nat in the village’
But not many members of the National Party share their view.
Mr Chester’s decision means he could be a lone voice of support within the Nationals party room.
Some of his colleagues have gently ribbed him with a nod to the Little Britain character, Dafydd, who continually bemoans being “the only gay in the village”.
“I may well be the only Nat in the village, but it’s not a joking matter,” Mr Chester said.
“It’s a bit of fun amongst colleagues.
“They acknowledge that I may be the only one amongst the 21 Nationals who ends up supporting same-sex marriage in a conscience vote.”
The vote, if and when it happens, could be tricky.
The numbers are not guaranteed within Parliament.
Those doing the numbers in the Senate say a same-sex marriage bill would not pass the Upper House now, believing it would fall three or four votes short – assuming there is a conscience vote within the Coalition.
“It’ll be an interesting day because the whips from all parties will be trying to work out who’s voting where and it may not be so straightforward as people think,” Mr Chester said.
But he said Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s handling of the debate had been very good.
“I think the PM’s handling of the issue has been impeccable,” he said.
“He may or may not agree with the position but I think his handling of the issue has been very good.”