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Society stronger with more marriages: PM

AAP logoAAP 13/09/2016

Malcolm Turnbull has outlined a passionate case to allow gay couples to wed, insisting society would be better if there were more marriages.

But as he introduced legislation to let the public have a say on the issue, the prime minister's bid for a plebiscite appears headed for defeat.

Labor - which has signalled its opposition to the public vote - accused Mr Turnbull of deliberate sabotage and setting up same sex marriage for failure.

Mr Turnbull on Wednesday told parliament it would be a wonderful thing to make families happier through marriage.

"Our society was stronger if more people were married and there were fewer divorces," he said.

"We are a parliament committed to marriage, and we are committed to people supporting each other and sticking together."

Mr Turnbull said he was sure Australians would vote yes at the planned February 11 vote, but whatever the outcome, it would be the right answer.

The issue was a matter of conscience for millions of Australians, he said, and that's why a plebiscite should be supported.

"To characterise (some) as being homophobic, as hating homosexuals ... is profoundly disrespectful," he said.

During question time, he called on the opposition to respect both sides of the debate without accusing those who disagree with them of being homophobic.

"The Labor Party has got to stop preaching this hatred," he said.

However, with key crossbenchers opposed to the plebiscite and Labor leader Bill Shorten expected to recommend to caucus that the bill be opposed, it will be defeated in the Senate.

Mr Shorten, before he flew out to Canada on Wednesday, said the fact public funding had been provided "to give a platform to bigotry" showed the government did not want to work with Labor on the issue.

He accused Mr Turnbull of deliberately sabotaging the process to make it difficult for even the most ardent supporters of gay marriage to back it.

"It's clear the extreme right wing of the Liberal party are setting marriage equality up to fail."

Mr Shorten said history would record Mr Turnbull as the "prime minister who broke the nation's heart", having caved in to the likes of conservative Liberals Tony Abbott, Kevin Andrews and Eric Abetz.

But Liberals are warning it's the plebiscite or bust, urging support or wait years for another opportunity to legalise gay marriage.

"Otherwise it is going to be off the agenda for at least three years," Mr Turnbull's assistant minister James McGrath said.

Attorney-General George Brandis says it would be disgraceful if nothing happens for years because Labor blocks a plebiscite.

But Greens senator Nick McKim has no doubt the government has an alternative.

"What type of prime minister would Mr Turnbull be if he didn't have a plan B up his sleeve here," he said.

Crossbench senator Derryn Hinch says he would rather wait three years than do a deal with the government.

Gay Liberal senator Dean Smith warned a plebiscite would establish a dangerous precedent.

"As a lifelong conservative I am not prepared to see the principle of parliamentary sovereignty undermined for all time simply because in this moment it is politically convenient," he wrote in Fairfax newspapers.

Liberal MP Andrew Hastie will be campaigning for a no vote, but if most Australians say yes, he will abstain from voting when subsequent legislation comes to parliament.

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