MODERATE cabinet minister Simon Birmingham has slapped down conservative colleague Peter Dutton after he told company bosses to butt out of the debate on same-sex marriage.
Mr Dutton chastised business leaders for getting involved in the same-sex marriage debate, especially Alan Joyce, the gay boss of Qantas, telling him to "get back to his knitting".
His comments came after the CEOs of 30 of Australia's largest companies, including Telstra, Qantas, Holden, Wesfarmers and the Commonwealth Bank, urged the government to take action on gay marriage.
Senator Birmingham said business often led the way on social reforms.
"Throughout history business leaders have often stepped ahead of legislators in support of reforms to gender equity or racial equity," he said.
"I see no reason why business leaders are not free to do likewise when it comes to issues like marriage equality."
Health Minister Greg Hunt did not see Mr Dutton's remark as a homophobic slur.
"What I do see it as is Peter making the same point I'm making and that is this should be a debate, not just for the elite but for every Australian to have their say," he told Sky News.
Mr Hunt supports gay marriage but also backs a plebiscite to resolve the issue. Cabinet colleague Matt Canavan - who opposes same-sex marriage - rejected the notion that somehow anything other than parliament immediately allowing same-sex marriage would be bad for business.
"What I found a little uncomfortable this week with the position of the CEOs is there's almost a level of contempt for those that might have a different view," he told ABC TV.
He queried how that might be received by socially conservative trading partners like Indonesia, Japan or China.
"If we treat others in our own country with that level of contempt, who have a view on traditional marriage, how can we go into our region and respect their views as well?" he asked.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce says no one has approached him about a reported plan for coalition MPs to present the prime minister with a letter urging the issue be put back on the agenda in the next fortnight.
Senator Birmingham said individual MPs were free to raise any issue they wanted and the government was "more than capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time".
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