• Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull leaves the chamber at the end of House of Representatives Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra. ((AAP Image/Lukas Coch))Source: (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)
No weddings and a funeral.
By
Ben Winsor

12 Oct 2016 - 10:52 AM  UPDATED 12 Oct 2016 - 10:52 AM

It was just over a year ago that then Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that the government would hold a national plebiscite to determine the issue of same-sex marriage.

The policy – meant as a bridge between conservatives and moderates in the Liberal Party – survived the change in leadership to Malcolm Turnbull, who reaffirmed his commitment to it and took it to this year’s double dissolution election.

Now that the Labor Party has committed to opposing the plebiscite - on the grounds that it is unnecessary and harmful for LGBT+ families - there is no way for it to pass the Senate.

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Labor joins The Greens, the Nick Xenophon Team and Senator Derryn Hinch in opposing the plebiscite.

Despite support from One Nation and other crossbench senators, any government legislation on the issue would be doomed to fail under the Senate’s current composition.

But both Labor Leader Bill Shorten and The Greens have said that marriage equality advocates shouldn’t give up hope, and that there is the potential of having same-sex marriage legislated before the next election.

Both parties have called for a free parliamentary vote on same-sex marriage legislation which, if held, would be expected to succeed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

“All three leaders of the main political parties support marriage equality, so let’s get this done,” Greens Leader Richard Di Natale said.

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While the Prime Minister has refused to rule out a parliamentary vote, Malcolm Turnbull reiterated the government's support for the plebiscite legislation, saying that Coalition will bring legislation before parliament even if it is doomed to failure.

“That's the focus. We are delivering on our commitment to the Australian people to bring a plebiscite before the Parliament,” Mr Turnbull said.

“I'm not going to go follow Bill Shorten down his highly political road of trying to subvert a straightforward democratic process, of trying to say to the Australian people you shouldn't have a say,” he said.

For his part, Mr Shorten repeatedly said the Prime Minister was “capable of changing his mind" and had done so before.

Malcolm Turnbull supports same-sex marriage and has previously advocated for a parliamentary vote, while Bill Shorten was once supportive of a plebiscite if it would deliver same-sex marriage.

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But it’s likely that the Prime Minister, despite personally supporting same-sex marriage, will have his hands tied by political realities.

National MPs who form part of the coalition government and Liberal MP’s opposed to same-sex marriage have already threatened to protest against any move by the Prime Minister to legislate same-sex marriage with a parliamentary conscience vote.

Nationals MP Andrew Broad today threatened to bring down the government if any such move was made.

“The Government that I am a part of, and will remain a part of, is conditional upon the fact that the only way that there will be a change to the Marriage Act in this parliament is a plebiscite,” he said today.

With a razor-thin majority of one in the House of Representatives, Mr Broad is in a strong position.

“I'm making it very clear here: my support for the Government is that we honour our election commitment, that we ask the Australian people for their say on this issue,” he said.

For same-sex marriage to be legislated in this term of parliament, it would require Prime Minister Turnbull to stare down opposition within his own party, or for some movement in the numbers on the floor of the House of Representatives.

If several government MPs crossed the floor to support same-sex marriage legislation, or the government could not maintain a majority for some other reason (as occurred earlier this year) Labor and lower house independents could potentially push legislation through despite government objections.

But barring any movement from the major parties, same-sex marriage looks unlikely to be passed until after the next election, scheduled for 2019.

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