A High Court challenge is underway over plans for a postal plebiscite on same-sex marriage

Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

The Senate has rejected the Turnbull government’s plan for a compulsory national plebiscite for a second time, meaning the Coalition will shift to its plan B option – a non-compulsory postal vote.

The vote was deadlocked at 31 against, 31 for means the motion was defeated. The Nick Xenophon Team combined with the Green and Labor to block the bill.

Advocating for the plebiscite during the initial debate, acting special minister of state, Mathias Cormann said “difficult issues” are “best handled by allowing democratic ballots to take place”, and called the non-compulsory postal ballot a “survey”.

“We trust the Australian people. We trust the Australian people are able to handle this debate,” he said.

But the Senate’s rejection of the idea for a second time means the government will move to hold a $122 million voluntary postal vote, potentially mailing out ballot papers as soon as September 12 with a deadline of November 7 for their return and the final vote declared on November 15.

Parliament would then meet to debate changing the marriage act in late November during the last week of sittings before the Christmas break.

Last night on ABC TV’s 7.30, attorney-general George Brandis said he expects the legislation to pass by Christmas.

But pro-marriage equality lobby groups have already threatened to launch High Court legal action against the postal vote, claiming it is unconstitutional and Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie said following the vote that he will be an applicant in the challenge.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott has already started campaigning in favour of a “no” vote, claiming it was a freedom of speech issue and “will help to stop political correctness in its tracks”.

Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, a long-term supporter of same-sex marriage, has ruled himself out of campaigning on the issue.

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