The Liberals' crunch meeting on marriage equality happens today, and ministers are expected to press on with postal vote plans

Supporters in favour of same-sex marriage at Dublin Castle on the day of Ireland’s referendum. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

The federal Liberal partyroom meets today to discuss a proposal to force a free vote in parliament on marriage equality from a group of renegade MPs.

Senior ministers, however, reportedly now have a detailed proposal for a postal plebiscite to give voters a say. Marriage equality advocates say this would be open to a High Court challenge.

Detail of the private members’ bill from the rebel MPs, led by WA Senator Dean Smith, have been circulated among Liberal MPs. It contains a range of exemptions which would give protection to objectors, mainly for religious orders refusing to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies.

“None of the other bills that have ever come before the Parliament – we’ve had in excess of 15 of them – none of the other bills have more comprehensively dealt with the issue of religious freedoms or religious protections,” Smith told ABC’s TV on Sunday.

Today’s partyroom meeting is seen as a test of Malcolm Turnbull’s control of the party. The proposal from the rebel MPs — Smith and lower house members Trevor Evans, Tim Wilson, Trent Zimmerman and Warren Entsch — will be debated before Turnbull is expected to sum up the will of the group.

If the group fails to win support for their plan they may decide to cross the floor to bring on a debate on their bill. The opposition has promised it will not use the issue to test confidence in the government on the floor of the parliament.

A proposal for a postal vote, which has been advocated by immigration minister Peter Dutton, is expected to be debated by cabinet, with the logic being that it’s the next best option because it would not require legislation to support it and the Senate has blocked the national plebiscite route.

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