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Same-sex marriage: How did the Liberal Party get into such a mess?

How on earth did the Liberal Party get itself into this mess? While it is one thing to be Conservative and to resist change – just on principle – surely it is quite another to publicly throw yourself before a mob of stampeding Australian voters, just begging them to trample all over you!

Such seems to be the situation right now for the Liberal Party after its decision on Monday to defy the polls which show that about three-quarters of the electorate wants same sex marriage and – instead of just passing the legislation in Parliament as it can quickly, easily, and cheaply do – go by the way of a hostile Senate once more, before likely finishing with a drawn-out, non-binding, non-compulsory postal plebiscite or a cynical fight in the High Court for the right to hold one.

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This, from the party that boasts of its financial rectitude, holding an unnecessary plebiscite that is no more than a glorified opinion poll, when it has the capacity to simply pass the legislation in Parliament?

This from the party that talks of individual rights and freedom as among its primary values, but is now seen to be resisting extending equal rights to a huge chunk of Australians?

This, on the watch of a Prime Minister who – despite his soothing words, his assurance that this is the right thing to do – would clearly prefer to quickly and neatly remove this mother of all barnacles from his own chances of guiding the Coalition to an election victory in 2019?

I repeat, how did the party get itself into this mess?

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Well, it's a long and complicated story which history – right after it itself votes against the Libs' latest decision – will likely review savagely.

But through all the twists and turns on this road, all the claims, counter-claims, there are a few things we can take to the bank.

1. Australia will have same-sex marriage, sooner rather than later, and there is nuttin' the Libs can do about it. The Libs can obfuscate, prevaricate and agitate 'til they're blue in the face – and here's a special cheerio to you, Senator Abetz – but when they decline to pursue the obvious course to simply legislate, it is all so much wasted effort.

2. A postal plebiscite with no teeth to it – and of dubious legal standing – is a ludicrous option and it damn nigh defies belief that this is the best option the Brains Trust of the Libs can come up with.

3. Whatever the Prime Minister says, however much he tries to sell it, once more he is seen to be pushing something that he clearly doesn't believe in. While the strength of one of his predecessors, John Howard, was that he was a "conviction politician", willing to stick by his convictions through thick and thin – something the electorate respected him for, even while often strongly disagreeing with those convictions – somehow, Malcolm Turnbull is once again being seen to sell something he doesn't actually believe in. Seemingly hamstrung by whatever commitment he made to the Conservative wing of his party before becoming Prime Minister, it means that once more he is not out in front of events, leading the nation forward, but jumping in front of what has just happened.

4. The Libs' once fabled "broad church" these days is not quite broad enough to accommodate so many widely differing views. The admirable Warren Entsch and Senator Abetz, I suspect, might be able to agree that it's Monday, but beyond that are likely to "only have in common, their right to trial by jury", to adapt the famous quote from Fran Lebowitz. Ditto Tony Abbott and Trent Zimmerman. It is too early to say that the Libs can no longer hold such hairy-chested Hard Line Conservatives and outspoken small 'l' liberals in the same ranks, but there has to be some chance this decision will be regarded as the moment when their broad church began to collapse.

5. Despite the derision hurled his way, and his inability to do what he clearly wants to do by taking Malcolm Turnbull's job back off him, Tony Abbott and his supporters still have the power to derail the whole Liberal program, from the course the Prime Minister actually wants them to pursue.

"Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" was the famous cry of Henry II in reference to Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, back in 1170.

Though Malcolm Turnbull has not yet said the same of Tony Abbott in the Libs collapsing broad church, I'll bet it's what he truly wants to bellow.

A mess.

Twitter: @Peter_Fitz

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