Junk Explained: Are We Actually Closer Than Ever To Marriage Equality?

Marriage equality is back in the spotlight, and according to those in the know, we might be closer than ever to actually realising it.

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Australian politics is once again being consumed by talk of marriage equality, but for once it looks like we might actually get there. Maybe. Possibly.

The latest eruption has been kicked off by a handful of Liberal MPs who support gay marriage. They’ve all hit the airwaves in the last few days in a coordinated push to put same-sex marriage firmly on the agenda for when parliament returns next week.

Those MPs are Brisbane’s Trevor Evans, Victoria’s Tim Wilson and Jason Wood, Sydney’s Trent Zimmerman, and Cairns MP and longtime marriage equality supporter Warren Entsch. All of them have signalled they’d be willing to cross the floor — which means voting against the government’s official policy — in order to make marriage equality a reality.

A lot would need to happen before same-sex marriage actually becomes law in Australia, but high-profile marriage equality campaigners have told Junkee they’re more confident than they’ve ever been. But…

There Are A Bunch Of Ways The Government Could Fuck This Up

Same-sex marriage is the issue that poses the biggest threat to Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership of the Liberal Party. The PM, who supports marriage equality, pledged to stick with a plebiscite when he knifed Tony Abbott in 2015, and took the policy to the election in 2016.

He says he still supports the policy (even though he personally hates it) and that it’s the only way forward.

“We made a commitment to give every Australian a say on this issue. That is our policy. It has not changed,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

The party’s hard-right conservatives (*cough* Tony Abbott *cough*), would go absolutely ballistic if the PM changed his position — he might even face a challenge to his leadership according to unnamed sources in The Herald Sun.

But on Monday, Turnbull pointed out that all Liberal backbenchers are free to cross the floor on any issue, which is pretty much his way of saying “nudge nudge, wink wink. If you do cross the floor, I won’t be too mad”.

Predictably, conservatives hit back on Tuesday, signalling they would pretty much blow up the government if marriage equality is passed.

Complicating things even further is the Liberal Party’s coalition agreement with The Nationals, which may or may not include a reference to the plebiscite (we don’t know, but it seems likely). Some National MPs like George Christensen might withdraw support for the government if same-sex marriage is passed by parliament without a plebiscite.

The government only has a one-seat majority, so it wouldn’t take much to cause absolute chaos.

There’s another group in the Liberal Party as well; the more “sensible” conservatives like Peter Dutton and Mathias Cormann, who don’t particularly like marriage equality, but are sick of talking about it and just want to move on.

They might decide to be pragmatic and get behind a conscience vote in parliament just to get the issue off the agenda. Or they might argue in favour of trying to legislate for a plebiscite again. Or they might argue for a “compromise” policy, like a voluntary postal plebiscite. This is a Very Bad Idea.

Like we say, there are a lot of ways this could go, and because it’s the Liberal Party, they’ll almost certainly find a way to fuck it up.

But Let’s Say It Does Move Ahead, How Would It Work?

Ok, so the Liberals who support same-sex marriage have reportedly been putting together a private member’s bill that would legalise same-sex marriage. That bill will probably be discussed by the Liberal Party room next week, where MPs will have to make a decision: will they ignore the bill and stick with the plebiscite, or allow the bill to go forward with a conscience vote.

If there’s a conscience vote, the bill would probably pass, which is why it probably won’t happen.

But the MPs can introduce the bill anyway and it will be referred to parliament’s powerful Selection Committee, which decides what bills are actually debated. The committee is where most private member’s bills go to die. It’s dominated by the government, so if Turnbull doesn’t want the bill to move forward, he could stop it there.

But wait, there’s more.

Bill Shorten Marriage Equality

Labor could then move a motion to suspend standing orders, which means they’d postpone the routine business of parliament to debate a matter of great importance — in this case, marriage equality.

Because Labor only has 69 MPs (nice), it would need the support of some crossbenchers and Liberals to reach the 76 votes needed to suspend standing orders. It would probably get the support of four crossbenchers, meaning it would need a few Liberals too.

That’s where the guys mentioned before come in. They’ve said they’re open to the idea of crossing the floor to suspend standing orders. Once they’ve done that, Labor could bring on a vote on marriage equality, which the same MPs would be likely to support, and BAM, we’ve got marriage equality.

This would be great for people who aren’t shit, but terrible for the government. It would mean it has lost control of parliament, it would piss off conservatives who might do anything to gain revenge, and it would really annoy the Nationals.

But hey, at least gay people would be able to get married, so it’s probably worth it.

Rob Stott is the Managing Editor of Junkee Media. He tweets at @rob_stott.