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There’s No Way Of Knowing How Coalition MPs Will Vote On Marriage Equality

What does "respect the outcome" mean?

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Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed on Friday that no Coalition MP, not even members of cabinet, will be bound to vote in favour of marriage equality if a "yes" vote is delivered in the government's proposed plebiscite.

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The proposed nationwide vote on marriage has been labelled "pointless" by the Labor opposition, who say a free vote in the parliament would have precisely the same effect.

However, Turnbull is convinced same-sex marriage legislation would pass the parliament if Australia votes "yes".

"I know parliamentarians well enough to know this, and I know my colleagues well enough, that if the Australian people vote 'yes' in a plebiscite for same-sex marriage ... I have no doubt it will sail through the parliament," he told ABC's 730.

But since then, there has been much speculation on how Turnbull can be so sure – given many Coalition MPs continue to oppose marriage equality. And all sorts of answers have been offered about how these opponents will deal with a "yes" vote in the plebiscite.

Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce explicitly pledged to vote along with the wishes of the Australian people.

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"If the Australian people decide that they don't want to change the definition of marriage, then I'll make sure that my vote, my actions say that we don't change the definition of marriage. If they say we do, I'll make sure that my actions support what they do," he told the ABC.

However, other senior ministers have walked a more ambiguous line.

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"I'm happy to respect the decision that the country makes on this," treasurer Scott Morrison told ABC Radio on Tuesday.

"If the plebiscite carries, then the legislation should pass. That's my view. If the plebiscite does not carry, then I would expect that would be the end of the matter."

Finance minister Mathias Cormann also said parliament would respect the will of the Australian people.

"Should we be successful at this election, I am very confident that whatever the result of the plebiscite, it will be carried through and respected by the Australian parliament," he told ABC News Radio.

However, neither Morrison nor Cormann specifically said they would vote for same-sex marriage in the parliament if Australia votes "yes" in a plebiscite.


Meanwhile, senator Zed Seselja said he would likely abstain in the event of a "yes" vote.

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Seselja told Canberra 666 Breakfast that abstention was a "likely scenario".

Seselja: What I've said is I certainly won't frustrate it. My position, Phil, is clear that I don't support same-sex marriage.

Journalist: No, no, I'm aware of that.

Seselja: I've taken that to the election, so obviously I would reserve the right to abstain.

Journalist: So you would abstain?

Seselja: That would be a very likely scenario in those circumstances.

Other MPs have said they will vote in accordance with their electorate, but not with a national vote.

Nationals MP David Gillespie, the member for Lyne, told Fairfax Media he would "respect the views of his electorate".

Hard-right social conservatives Eric Abetz and Cory Bernardi have previously implied they would vote against same-sex marriage regardless of the plebiscite outcome.

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"It would be up to each member to decide whether the plebiscite accurately reflects the views of the Australian people, whether it reflects the views of their electorates and whether it is good or bad public policy in their view," Abetz told Guardian Australia in January.

Bernardi described the plebiscite as "a glorified opinion poll" that no government should be bound by.

"I don’t expect every member of the parliament should have to say, ‘Well, I don’t like it but I’m going to vote for it anyway’. There will be millions of people who vote against redefining marriage, and they deserve a voice in the parliament," he told Sky News in January.

Asked exactly what MPs mean when they say they will "respect the outcome," a spokesperson for the Coalition said the outcome would be respected.

"If the majority of Australians vote ‘yes’ in the plebiscite, their decision will be respected by the Government and the Parliament and same-sex marriage will be legalised in Australia," they said.

"The government is confident the Australian people will conduct themselves in a respectful and dignified manner during the debate."

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

Contact Lane Sainty at

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