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Cartoon by Mark David / @mdavidcartoons

Turnbull could, if he was willing, cut short the 'No' campaign shenanigans by simply calling a vote on Senator Dean Smith’s long-standing motion but this would take plain old-fashioned guts, so it probably won't happen, writes Mungo MacCallum.

SENATOR SIMON BIRMINGHAM and other exasperated colleagues are quite right: it is bizarre and dishonest in the extreme for those who have spent the last months – years even – implacably opposing same-sex marriage to now demand the right to determine how it is to be implemented, assuming the interminable plebiscite gets a majority this week.

But then, the whole "No" campaign was bizarre and dishonest so really we should not be surprised.

The idea that the movement for gender equality, which began at least 50 years ago and has moved forward – at times slowly, sporadically but always with a remorseless inevitability about it – could suddenly cut short in its tracks was never realistic — and, to be fair, most of the naysayers understood that. With few exceptions (invariably religious) most of them were concerned not to consign it to oblivion – they never had the numbers to succeed in that – but to delay it indefinitely, to keep putting conditions and obstacles in the way at every step in the process.

Thus we had the invention of the original plebiscite, which morphed into the bastard voluntary version we have now been forced to endure, in the promise that this would end the issue forever. But of course it won’t; as soon it became clear that they were likely to lose the vote, the warriors of the reactionary religious right swiftly moved the goalposts.

The verdict of the people did not matter — they now wanted what Senator Eric Abetz described as a conversation (by which he meant an ultimatum and a procrastination) about what he described as religious freedom (by which he meant religious privilege). Abetz and his vigilantes want legislation to wind back existing anti-discrimination law to empower anyone who feels like it to refuse goods and services of any kind to those they suspect of intending to embark on same-sex marriage.

This is intolerable, obviously, but it could take an awfully long time to sort it out, so the holy wars can continue. But at least Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull should understand the tactic and be ready for it.

Back in the days of the Australian Constitution Convention, the first important decision was the decision to pursue a model; those hard-line monarchists, who wanted the idea killed off at birth, were soundly beaten. But some wanted to fight on, so they hatched a plot to embrace a model which would be clearly unacceptable to voters — what was called the McGarvie Model, which would entail a head of state appointed by a council of retired High Court judges, who, by definition, would be septuagenarians or older.

Obviously, Republicans were outraged: the monarchists would oppose any and every version of republicanism and should, therefore, butt out — they had had their chance. And to their credit, most of the monarchists accepted the logic — most of them abstained from further voting.

But it is clear the many in the Coalition caucus do not share such ethics — and why should they? Not only are they having lots of fun bashing up the LGBTQI community, they have the bonus that their recalcitrance will infuriate Turnbull and, with any luck, further undermine and destabilise his leadership.

Turnbull could, if he was willing, cut short their shenanigans by simply calling a vote on Senator Dean Smith’s long-standing motion, which would be supported by an overwhelming majority of the Labor Party and enough Liberals. crossbenchers and even the odd National to finally end the unedifying saga. But this would take courage, moxie, ticker — plain old-fashioned guts.

So it probably won’t happen. As our leader says, "business as usual".

Mungo MacCallum is a veteran journalist who worked for many years in the Canberra Press Gallery. This article was published on 'Pearls and Irritations' and is republished with permission.

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