PRIME Minister Tony Abbott has ruled out a free vote on marriage equality in the Liberal party, instead opting for a joint Coalition vote on the contentious issue.
Queensland Liberal backbencher Warren Entsch, the co-sponsor of a bill for equal marriage rights for gay Australians, raised the issue without notice in the party room on Tuesday.
It sparked what Mr Abbott described as a "spirited debate", before he, as party leader, said he preferred the issue to be discussed during a joint Coalition meeting.
Opting for the Nationals to be included in a conscience vote is a blow to the bill's chances of success as the party has a stated position of opposing it.
While some Nationals MPs have gone public in recent months to support marriage equality, most members of the party are understood to oppose extending the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.
The ABC reported that Education Minister Christopher Pyne warned Mr Abbott he ran the risk of being seen to be branch stacking and that the issue should be decided by the Liberal party room.