OPINION

IT WAS supposed to be the ultimate victory for love, so why has Australia's joyous embrace of marriage equality resulted in so much hate?

Not towards the gay community - if anything the most high-profile opponents of same-sex marriage have slipped quietly into the shadows. Indeed, when the final vote came to parliament Tony Abbott was literally nowhere to be seen.

Instead, the most vocal vitriol came from the winning side. The side that was supposed to be all for love and tolerance and acceptance. The side I voted for.

Just after the new marriage law became enshrined in law last week I was intrigued to see the word "Lyle" trending on Twitter. Being a shameless country music fan I assumed it must have been in reference to the great Texan crooner Lyle Lovett, whom Julia Roberts shamelessly married just to advance her Hollywood career.

In fact it was a massive social media tsunami driven by thousands of users all posting the words "Eat s**t Lyle", directed at the Christian lobbyist Lyle Shelton. I have never seen a more hateful celebration of love in my life.

Lyle Shelton from the Australian Christian Lobby. Photo Contributed
Lyle Shelton from the Australian Christian Lobby. Photo Contributed Contributed

This included, it must be said, many people I know and like and some whom I love. They probably just thought it was funny, and maybe it was on the screen.

Still, I thought about Charlotte Dawson, I thought about that porn star who killed herself after being hounded online for some dopey comment and I thought about Adam Goodes, who had to suffer the same baying mob mentality not just online but live in the arena. I went from shameless to ashamed.

Yet even more baffling was the outpouring of rage against the nation's most high-profile Yes voter in the days after the marriage bill passed to laughter and tears in a near-unanimous vote in the House of Representatives.

It should have been an unprecedented celebration of national acceptance and unity - probably no vote has received such overwhelming support since the 1967 referendum to formally include Aboriginal people in the census. Yet how quickly did it descend into blame-making and name-calling - even after a victory that had been so emphatically won.

The target this time was Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who was variously chastised, mocked and abused for celebrating the win. I won't repeat the worst insults here but it's a fair bet anyone engaged in the debate has either seen them or hurled them.

The staggering thing of course is that Turnbull has been a public, vocal and longstanding supporter of same-sex marriage. In fact in 2016 he became the first sitting prime minister to attend the Sydney Mardi Gras, a milestone that was applauded at the time but has been conveniently forgotten since.

Whatever other faults he may have, homophobia is certainly not one of them. In fact his biggest fault is probably that he joined the wrong party.

MPs celebrate the bill’s passing (Photo by Michael Masters/Getty Images)
MPs celebrate the bill’s passing (Photo by Michael Masters/Getty Images)

Either way, the elation and relief Turnbull felt at the same-sex marriage survey result and subsequent parliamentary vote was obvious to anyone who saw or heard him. There were literally hugs, and that's not something you see politicians doing too much these days without a knife in one hand.

Yet still he has been cast as a pariah by the extreme elements of the same sex marriage campaign. And why? Not because he opposed it, nor because he championed it, but because the result they wanted and that he delivered wasn't achieved exactly the way they wanted.

Winston Churchill once described a fanatic as someone who can't change their mind and won't change the subject. Yet it is a frightening new kind of fanaticism when that same someone gets everything they wanted but still howls in retrospective protest at the way it was achieved. How excruciatingly precious politics has become.

And, most depressing of all, how ignorant.

But, least surprising of all, it is those who consider themselves the most politically aware who are most ignorant of how politics actually works. Or indeed the basic facts of the matter.

Let us take the various scattered complaints one at a time.

Perhaps the most prevalent is that Turnbull deserves no credit for the postal survey result, that the magnificent turnout of almost 80 per cent and overwhelming Yes vote of over 60 per cent occurred despite rather than because of him.

Well, no. Without the Coalition and the weird internal machinations that Turnbull was lumped with there would have been no result at all because there would have been no vote. There would have been no survey, there would have been no act of parliament and same-sex marriage would not be legal today.

Indeed, if there is anyone for whom the Yes vote win occurred despite rather than because of it is the Yes campaigners themselves, who even after the vote being called were not just opposing it but fighting its very legitimacy all the way to the High Court. If anything, it is despite that bizarrely contradictory move that overwhelming numbers turned out to vote and vote Yes, not despite the people who merely held the ballot in the first place.

Of course there are plenty of valid arguments as to why the postal survey was silly, compromised and unnecessary - and it is a matter of public record that I made many of them myself - but once a vote is on, it's on. It's pretty rich for one side to oppose the process, attempt to derail the process, in some corners threaten to boycott the process and then when the process turns out in their favour claim all the credit and slag off the people who started the process in the first place. I don't think I can recall any other landmark political battle in which the winning side so vocally hailed themselves as legitimate victors while at the same time declaring the game was hopelessly rigged.

Ivan Hinton (R) and Chris Teoh (L), with marriage celebrant Roger Munson (top-C), are married at Canberra's Old Parliament House on December 7, 2013.
Ivan Hinton (R) and Chris Teoh (L), with marriage celebrant Roger Munson (top-C), are married at Canberra's Old Parliament House on December 7, 2013. AAP/AFP Andrew Taylor

So there is that. Then there is the argument that Malcolm Turnbull should have just stuck to his principles, defied the binding vote of his party room, trashed the deal he made with the Nationals when he became PM and broken the promise he made to the Australian people when he went to the election and won, albeit by the slimmest of margins.

In other words he should have crossed the floor of parliament and voted against his own party's official position.

This would have been what Sir Humphrey Appleby calls "a courageous decision".

For one thing, Turnbull's own vote would mean nothing were it not accompanied by every single member of the opposition and all the crossbenchers. This would have to have included several Labor MPs of the Catholic variety who may not have been so brave, as well as several whose electorates we now know were of the Muslim and Orthodox variety and also may have thunk twice without a thumping national mandate behind them. It would also have to have included Bob Katter, and frankly I'm not too sure he's "all in" on the whole gay rights thing. Call me crazy.

If the Liberal party room had allowed a free-conscience vote on what should obviously be a conscience vote issue then that would have probably liberated enough other Liberal MPs to also cross the floor and carry the day. But the fact is the Liberal party room didn't and so they wouldn't. That's the problem with facts, they get in the way of everything - except, of course, a good story.

And yet people who claimed to believe in the "old" Malcolm Turnbull were still calling for him to cross the floor. If only they believed in history too.

The problem is the old Malcolm Turnbull did cross the floor. He did it in 2010 just after he got knifed as Liberal leader for supporting an emissions trading scheme.

As for the emissions trading scheme, we still don't have one. The Greens ended up blocking it because it didn't meet their exact ideological standards.

And so Turnbull has much experience in standing on principle. It cost him his leadership, his support base and his credibility - and thanks to the Greens it was all for nothing.

Little wonder he is reluctant to once more march to the guillotine to satisfy the hard left.

But he still could have done it. He could have made a symbolic stand that would have achieved nothing but to show the world how virtuous he was, which now seems to be the cause du jour.

And to be fair it would not have been entirely symbolic. Depending on the timing, the practical impact would be that Tony Abbott would have remained prime minister or Peter Dutton would become the current one.

The amazing thing is that this would be a major victory for the new hard left, who prefer a right-wing prime minister they can protest against than a moderate leader who actually helps the disadvantaged people they pretend to care about.

For while Turnbull has had abuse hurled at him by the trendies for not saying the right things about same-sex marriage, he has been quietly implementing Labor policies that Labor itself failed to bed down.

In what are unquestionably the two most vital areas to address poverty and disadvantage - education and disability - Turnbull has implemented the true Gonski revolution with the blessing of the man himself and fully-funded the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

But it is not just deeply ironic that a Liberal PM is delivering Labor's two most important and iconic reforms. What is more staggering is that Labor's supposedly right-wing leader Bill Shorten is opposing them for cynical political reasons while the left-wing Anthony Albanese believes they should be embraced for the greater good.

The truth is that Turnbull is the best Liberal PM the left could ever hope for, and yet they still seek to destroy him. Indeed, there is only one group that hates Turnbull as much as the hard left and that's hard right - and if that's not a wake-up call to both of them then God help us all.

The problem with fanaticism is that if you always demand everything, pretty soon people will stop bothering to give you anything. That's why Santa has a naughty list.

Indeed, what better gift could the nation give itself than a resounding declaration that love is love, that all of us are equal and that in a free and fair vote Australians overwhelmingly came out - even those who thought they shouldn't have to - and flocked to the side of simple decency.

If that's not a gift to be grateful for then nothing will ever be good enough. But it seems like a pretty happy Christmas to me.



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