Three renegade Liberal MPs have revived the hopes for marriage equality to be resolved by a free vote in federal parliament, outlining a path by which same-sex marriage could become a reality within a few short weeks and saying it would be "political suicide" to ignore the opportunity.
Federal parliament resumes next week after a long winter break, with hot topics like national security, tax, inequality and citizenship to dominate the agenda, but same-sex marriage unexpectedly seems set to feature high in the conversation again.
Marriage equality was seemingly off the table in the lifespan of the current parliament, after the government's plans for a national plebiscite were scuppered, a compromise proposal for a voluntary postal plebiscite was roundly ridiculed, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed he would not move on the issue without some form of national people's vote being held as he swiped aside a push for a simple parliamentary vote.
But on Monday morning, just seven days out from the new parliamentary session, leading Coalition marriage equality advocates Trevor Evans, Dean Smith and Tim Wilson all appeared in what seemed to be a coordinated media blitz to re-spark talk of marriage equality being dealt with sooner rather than later -- as government frontbencher Christopher Pyne boasted just last month.
Things are moving - coordinated PR blitz today by three gay Lib MPs on same-sex marriage: Tim Wilson, Trevor Evans and Dean Smith #auspol— Bevan Shields (@BevanShields) July 30, 2017
In The Australian, Evans confirmed "several options being planned within Liberal ranks to bring on a vote, possibly within weeks". The Queensland Liberal MP, who is gay, said there were several in the Coalition who were discussing the way forward.
"I am talking with colleagues, quite a number of colleagues, about different options that sit in front of us at the moment," he told The Australian.
The article outlines that just three Liberal MPs need to cross the floor to give a marriage equality free vote a real chance.
One possible process to bring on a free vote is for Labor to move a parliamentary procedure called a suspension of standing orders, which would allow the opposition to bring on discussion of a bill which has not been approved by the government -- for example, the bill proposed by Liberal senator Dean Smith, which would legislate marriage equality via a simple parliamentary vote.
Such a suspension of standing orders requires an absolute majority of the House of Representatives, or 76 votes, to be carried -- Labor has 69 votes, and combined with marriage equality supporters on the crossbench, it could require as few as three Coalition members to support the suspension for it to be carried.
Tony Abbott's former chief of staff Peta Credlin, now a media commentator, outlined the process last year.
Peta Credlin explains how Labor can get marriage equality through the parliament. https://t.co/rXoL90cfiS— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) August 29, 2016
Coincidentally, there happens to be three Liberal marriage equality supporters making noise on Monday, while there are others in Warren Entsch and Trent Zimmerman who could potentially switch sides and support a Labor push for a free vote in parliament.
In a move set to pour even more fuel on the fire, PM Turnbull said later on Monday that backbenchers had the right to cross the floor on any issue they chose, and did not make an appeal for them to stay bound to the party's plebiscite policy.
"In our party, backbenchers have always had the right to cross the floor," Turnbull told a press conference in Western Australia, responding to a question about Evans.
"In the Labor Party, you get expelled for doing that. It's always been a fundamental principle in the Liberal Party and indeed, the National Party.
here's the full quote, Turnbull says crossing the floor "always been a fundamental principle" for Libs - could SSM actually be happening? pic.twitter.com/UfIoA19HX2— Josh Butler (@JoshButler) July 31, 2017
"The most compelling argument for dealing with this matter now is its importance to younger voters," Smith wrote in the Australian Financial Review on Monday.
"Bill Shorten and Labor are delighting in the massive political advantage this gives them among young adult voters who comprise 35 percent of the enrolled population."
Smith said the government was doing itself a huge disadvantage by not taking action on the issue.
"The government should not feel obligated to commit political suicide by handing its opponents a massive political cudgel by allowing the question of marriage equality to remain unresolved and fester over the next two years," he said.
"The politics of the marriage debate have evolved and continued inaction is becoming harder to defend."
On a regular Monday appearance on Sky News, Victorian MP Tim Wilson said he had "personal tensions" over the government's plebiscite policy. Wilson said he experienced "torments" over the issue.
"It's in the best interests of the country to have this issue resolved... when you look at my party, I think it's in our best interests to move on from this issue so we can focus on the things people voted for me and for my party to deal with. Tax reform, fixing the budget, national security, making sure we stop terrorism," Wilson said.
"I have a personal conflict which torments and challenges me on a daily basis. I'd like to see this issue resolved."
None of the MPs have said they would definitely cross the floor if a suspension of standing orders came on, and The Australian reported Evans avoided answering their questions on the topic, but with the issue resurrected once more, pressure for an outcome will build.
"I don't think it is useful to entertain all of the hypotheticals on how it might be achieved," Evans told The Australian.
"I am not ruling anything out... there is a number of ways that things can be brought onto the floor in order to have a vote."