Same-sex marriage row might bring down Australia’s Prime Minister

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Senior figures are growing mutinous in Australia’s governing Liberal Party ahead of a showdown on equal marriage.

There is overwhelming support for equal marriage in the country, but right-wing Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been under growing pressure on all sides.

Until now Mr Turnbull has refused to permit a free vote in Parliament on the issue, due to strong opposition from key members of his government, who insist the issue can only be settled by a nationwide ballot.

However, pro-gay factions within Turnbull’s party have threatened to side with the opposition, using a procedural motion to force a vote in Parliament on a backbench marriage equality bill.

Malcolm Turnbull

Ahead of the crucial showdown on the issue next week, fears are growing that Turnbull – who gave private assurances to anti-LGBT conservatives during his Liberal leadership bid – may not survive the catastrophically-mismanaged row.

If Mr Turnbull permits MPs to rebel against party line and bring forward a marriage bill, he is likely to face a challenge from angry right-wingers. Meanwhile, if he forces MPs into voting against, he could face mutiny from the growing pro-equality lobby within the party.

One name being touted for a potential leadership challenge from the right is Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, a strong opponent of same-sex marriage who has asserted the issue must be put to the Australian public directly.

Both the Herald Sun and The Australian newspapers have warned that if the party rift over the issue is potentially “career-ending” for Mr Turnbull.

One senior Liberal told Australia’s Daily Telegraph: “It’s terminal. If Turnbull can’t control the moderates, what’s the point of his prime ministership?”

Another added that the bill passing “would put Malcolm’s leadership under threat”.

According to the Guardian, Liberal Senator Eric Abetz has suggested the rebellion could be a “grave matter” for the government, claiming it will have “lost its authority” if the marriage bill passes.

The anti-gay marriage Senator would not be drawn on a leadership challenge, but said: “If a government loses a procedural vote on the floor of the House because certain members deliberately vote with Labor and the Greens then that is an exceptionally grave matter.

“I think that would be an exceptionally grave matter and that is why any of my colleagues who are contemplating such action should be thinking about this, not two or three times, but a dozen times, then come to the conclusion that losing government isn’t worth it.”

The row is bitterly ironic given Mr Turnbull has long been known to be a private supporter of same-sex marriage, aside from his stance as party leader.

His choice may be to go down doing something that he believes in – or go down doing something he doesn’t.