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Deadlock as rebel Aussie politicians prevent fresh bid for gay marriage vote

By Rod McGuirk

Australia's ruling party has rejected a push to allow politicians to decide whether the country should recognise gay marriage, continuing a bitter political stalemate over the divisive reform.

The conservative Liberal Party-led coalition was narrowly re-elected in July 2016 with a promise to let voters decide whether Australia should recognise same-sex marriage through a popular vote.

But the Senate would not allow the so-called plebiscite, which would have cost £97m, and the result could have been ignored by politicians when deciding how to vote on gay marriage legislation in parliament.

Liberal Senator Dean Smith, a gay man who opposed legalising same-sex marriage when he was appointed to the Senate in 2012, has drafted a bill to allow it now.

He wants his fellow Liberal politicians to be allowed to vote on it according to their consciences rather than according to party policy.

"It's time for the party to put the matter to rest once and for all," Mr Smith said.

A crisis meeting of Liberal politicians decided to try again to persuade the Senate to endorse the plebiscite before parliament considers voting on legislation.

The rejected plebiscite bill will be reintroduced to the Senate this week. Voting on the plebiscite would be compulsory and failure to vote would be punishable by a fine.

If the Senate rejected it again, the party would propose a voluntary postal plebiscite in which voters mail in their opinions instead of using ballot boxes, a cheaper option that wouldn't need the Senate to approve the expense.

The seven politicians who spoke against the plebiscite at the meeting were outnumbered more than three-to-one by 27 colleagues who supported the two-year-old policy.

Finding agreement on the issue is a test of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's authority over his government, which holds a single-seat majority in the House of Representatives.

Politician Andrew Broad had threatened to quit that government and predicted 16 of his colleagues in the Nationals party would follow if the Liberal Party opted to allow a parliamentary vote on gay marriage without a plebiscite.

"It won't be me only, the whole show would blow up," Mr Broad said.

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