Tasmania's upper house MPs have voted to leave the debate about same-sex marriage to their federal counterparts.

It means a bid to make the state Australia's first to enact gay marriage laws has failed for the second time in two years.

Last year MPs voted eight to six to throw out a private member's bill for state-based gay marriage, and at a vote in the Legislative Council on Tuesday there was no change.

The bid to revive the debate was spearheaded by the independent Member for Murchison, Ruth Forrest.

In a passionate plea, she urged MLCs to consider same-sex marriage laws recently enacted in France and New Zealand.

She told MLCs Tasmania risked being left behind.

"It is our job as lawmakers to show neither fear nor favour, but to do what is right," she said.

Independent Ivan Dean insisted the gay marriage debate was best left to federal politicians.

"This is a national matter in my opinion, and I feel very strongly about that," he told Parliament.

But independent Mike Gaffney had urged his fellow MPs to reconsider.

"This is a very important lifestyle issue for many people. A debate about equality and discrimination," he said.

Independent Member for Apsley Tania Rattray said most Australians were not ready for a new definition of marriage

"There needs to be national and uniform legislation," she said.

"The tide is turning and we have come a long way in recognising the diversity of relationships in this country, But from what I'm hearing as a majority view from those Tasmanians that I represent, the tide hasn't turned enough."

Leonie Hiscutt, the Liberal member for Montgomery, agreed that voters had reservations.

"Not many people that I have talked to are actually in favour of this," she said.

Tuesday's result has been welcomed by the Save Marriage Coalition, which had been lobbying MLCs ahead of their vote.

Former Liberal senator and spokesman Guy Barnett says MPs have voted to preserve the sanctity of marriage.

"Marriage has been around for hundreds and thousands of years, it's an institution," he said.

"Same-sex marriage denies a child the right to both a mother and father, and both mums and dads are important."

Rodney Croome, a spokesman for Australians for Marriage Equality, thinks it is only a matter of time before gay couples are allowed to marry in Tasmania.

"Tens of thousands of Tasmanians passionately want this reform and will continue the debate regardless of what the Upper House thinks," he said.

The Tasmanian Greens concede there will be no further attempt to get same-sex marriage laws through Parliament between now and the March state election.

The party is vowing to re-introduce a gay marriage bill in the next Parliament, and is describing Tuesday's result as disappointing and sad.

Same-sex marriage joined voluntary euthanasia as major attempts at social policy from the Labor-Green state government which have failed this year.

A vote on voluntary euthanasia, co-sponsored by Premier Lara Giddings and Greens leader Nick McKim, was narrowly defeated in the lower house earlier this month.

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