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Here's Why Marriage Equality Was A Huge Issue In The Last Two Weeks

Malcolm Turnbull is sick of talking about same-sex marriage.

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Marriage equality has been at the forefront in the final two weeks of the marathon election campaign – but it's wearing down the Coalition.

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On Friday morning, one of the prime minister's most senior advisers was overheard telling a journalist that Turnbull's campaign thought the travelling press had "run out of questions" when the focus had turned sharply to the marriage equality plebiscite.

Marriage equality was buzzing along quietly this election, the warring policies of the Coalition's plebiscite and Labor's parliamentary vote set down.

And then, in the second last week of the campaign, things started to ramp up. Malcolm Turnbull called Bill Shorten's argument against the plebiscite – namely, that it will open the door to homophobia – a "scare campaign", on Darwin radio station Mix 104.9.

Last Tuesday evening, the opposition leader in the Senate, Penny Wong, gave a powerful speech slamming the plebiscite.

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Wong described Turnbull's reassurance that the plebiscite would be "respectful" as "the hollowest of hollow words".

“Assaults – and worse – are not unknown in Australia, even today,” Wong said.

“Many gay and lesbian people don’t hold hands on the street because they don’t know what reaction they’ll get.”

“Not one straight politician advocating a plebiscite on marriage equality knows what that’s like."

The next morning, treasurer Scott Morrison told Radio National Breakfast he knows just how it feels to be a victim of bigotry.

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“I understand the concern Penny is raising,” Morrison said. “I know it from personal experience having been exposed to that sort of hatred and bigotry for the views I’ve taken.”

Morrison, who opposes marriage equality, spoke up for people like himself who have suffered in this debate.

“Frankly, people of very strong religious views have been subject to quite dreadful hate speech and bigotry as well,” he said.

A couple of days later, Turnbull confirmed that no Coalition MPs would be asked to vote according to the result of the plebiscite – not even members of cabinet.

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“The tradition in the Liberal Party is that on matters of this kind it is a free vote,” he said.

However, Turnbull was insistent that the outcome would be respected, and if the Australian people voted "yes", the passage of marriage equality through the parliament was guaranteed.

And then Brexit happened. What does Britain's decision to leave the EU have to do with same-sex marriage? Well, quite a lot, according to a bunch of people on Twitter.

#Brexit debate was toxic, divisive, ill informed, + result unwelcomed. Ominous warnings for Aus marriage equality plebiscite #ausvotes

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Hey @TurnbullMalcolm, any lessons here about a referendum to appease extreme factions of your party? Asking for a friend. #ausvotes #Brexit

Scott Morrison was back at it again in the last week of the campaign – this time, saying marriage equality advocates should give up if the plebiscite doesn't carry.

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“If the plebiscite does not carry, then I would expect that that is the end of the matter,” he told RN Breakfast.

Senator Zed Seselja said he would abstain if the plebiscite was carried, which opened the door for one essential question: does "respecting the outcome" of a "yes" vote mean voting in favour, not voting at all, or something else?

The matter was only made worse by suspiciously similar interviews on 7.30 and Lateline, in which Morrison and deputy PM Julie Bishop repeatedly said "I will respect the outcome of the plebiscite" – but failed to outline exactly what that means.

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Scott Morrison was asked SIX TIMES if he would vote for marriage equality if a plebiscite succeeded – and refused to answer, every single time.

Bishop ducked questions on whether she would vote based on the result of the national plebiscite or on her electorate.

On Wednesday, Turnbull was pressed again on exactly how he could guarantee the passage of the same-sex marriage bill through the parliament if he won't bind his MPs. His answer was, well, "Believe me".

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“I have a very good understanding of parliaments, parliamentarians, and the realities of politics,” he said. “There are few things in politics that are certain. But one thing that is an absolute certainty is that same-sex marriage will pass the parliament if the plebiscite passes.”

Turnbull also created a stir by saying the plebiscite would be "as close as possible" to the mechanisms of a referendum – which includes compulsory voting, funded "yes" and "no" campaigns, and a notoriously difficult double majority to pass.

However, a spokesperson quickly clarified after the press conference that no double majority would be required.

By Thursday, Turnbull was demonstrably sick of it all, telling the National Press Club "the decision on Saturday is not about gay marriage".

Lisa Maree Williams / Getty Images

Asked by BuzzFeed News if he agreed with Morrison's assertion that a failed plebiscite would be "the end of the matter", Turnbull opted to once again outline the government policy of a plebiscite.

"The question of gay marriage or same-sex marriage will be determined, if we are re-elected, by a plebiscite held as soon a possible," he said.

"Every Australian, every single one of us, will have the same vote – they will have one vote each – and that will be the determining factor in this debate.”

Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Lane Sainty at lane.sainty@buzzfeed.com.

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