Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has promised to hold a public vote on legalizing gay marriage if his government is re-elected next year.

On Tuesday, Abbott's ruling conservative coalition effectively killed a proposed marriage bill when it decided against allowing its lawmakers a free vote.

Abbott vowed a public vote on the issue if his government is re-elected next year. Currently, the opposition Labor Party is leading in opinion polls.

“The only way to successfully and satisfactorily settle this matter, given that it is so personal and given that so many people have strong feelings on either side of this – the only way to settle it with the least rancor, if you like, is to ask the people to make a choice,” Abbott told reporters.

“That means that going into the next election, you'll have the Labor Party, which wants it to go to a Parliamentary vote, and you've got the coalition, that wants it to go to a people's vote.”

As recently as May, Abbott ruled out putting the issue on the ballot.

Polls show a majority (72%) of Australians support marriage equality.