Following the overwhelming victory for the yes campaign in Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey with 61.6% of votes being yes responses political leaders have promised to pass same sex marriage before Christmas. This appears also certain just not because of the statements of Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten but the amazing capitulation of conservative MPs following Wednesday’s result.
On the Monday before the survey results were announced conservatives put forward a rival same sex marriage bill spearheaded by Liberal Senator James Patterson which would have seen protections for religious institutions, free speech, conscientious objectors and parental rights. Many commentators were predicting this would be another internal Liberal party showdown which would again test Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership.
However, following the overwhelming yes vote James Patterson killed his own bill before it even got to the Senate instead his colleague Dean Smith’s bill which amends the Marriage Act in the most basic way with limited religious protections was introduced into the Senate that afternoon. In the days following the result it appears that most of the conservative pushback against the Smith bill has simply evaporated.
Malcolm Turnbull immediately following the announcement of the result held a press conference championing the yes victory “They voted ‘yes’ for fairness. They voted ‘yes’ for commitment. They voted ‘yes’ for love”. It was clearly the best day Malcolm Turnbull had as Prime Minister in long time given the continuing citizenship saga has consumed his government’s agenda.
He is clearly pleased that same sex marriage will be introduced under his Prime Ministership and the vote was not just a win for same sex marriage but a victory for him over former Prime Minister Tony Abbott who was the face of the no campaign. He is probably also pleased that he at last won a public vote after he oversaw the failed 1999 republican referendum.
Malcolm Turnbull certainly believes he now has some much-needed political capital to stare down his conservative opponents in the party. Turnbull will also be hoping that now this issue is off the agenda and he is fulfilling the will of the Australian people it may improve his standing in Newspoll where he is edging closer to that dreaded 30 Newspoll losses in a row.
Given that the political pressure is now on the government to pass a same sex marriage bill before Christmas senior conservatives in the government are now only asking for basic protections. Labor and the Greens know the pressure is on the government as well and are demanding no wind back of anti-discrimination laws. This is a view shared by Peter Dutton the most senior conservative in the government “I don’t support discrimination in any form against any person”.
Since most conservative MPs in the government electorates voted yes despite their personal view they have stated they will not attempt to frustrate the passage of same sex marriage legislation. Andrew Hastie has stated he will abstain, George Christensen has said he will move amendments to protect religious freedoms however if they are defeated he will not vote against his electorate and simply abstain.
Both Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison have even stated that debate on religious freedoms can be deferred until 2018 in an effort to have same sex marriage legislated before Christmas. This would imply that we are unlikely to obtain the religious protections many yes campaigners promised as the government would not have the numbers in Senate to pass such protections which means that the no side may obtain no concessions at all.
It is clear that many conservative MPs have felt politically intimated by the size of the yes victory and are more worried about incurring the wrath of the voters than anything else. It would seem that the concerns raised by no campaigners such as Lyle Shelton are no longer of interest to them. Same sex marriage looks like being steamrolled through the parliament the next two sitting weeks with not even the most minimal religious protections guaranteed to be included.