Australians are being asked to take part in a postal vote to show whether or not they support a law allowing couples of the same sex to marry.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) will run the process, beginning with the posting of ballot papers to all enrolled Australian voters early next month. Ballot papers will start arriving in the mail from September 12, and voters will have until November 7 to post them back. Voting cannot be done online.
Anyone who is not on the Electoral Roll has until August 24 to register with the Australian Electoral Commission. This can be done on the AEC website at www.aec.gov.au/enrol.
According to the latest data from the Australian Electoral Commission, about 5% of Australians of all ages are not currently enrolled. The percentage of young people aged between 18 and 24 who are not enrolled is nearly three times higher.
Unlike a standard plebiscite or election, it is not compulsory to take part. At a cost of $122 million, it is little more than an opinion survey. The government previously called for a compulsory plebiscite, which would have meant voters had to attend a polling booth, as in an election. However, the motion was defeated in the Senate.
Many different groups have objected to the postal vote. The Opposition Labor Party argues that young people who are less familiar with stamps and non-electronic forms of mail will be at a disadvantage.
Some same-sex marriage advocates believe a postal ballot is unconstitutional, and may challenge it in the High Court. There are calls in the gay and lesbian community to simply refuse the vote.
Representatives of at least one remote Indigenous community say it will be difficult for their people to participate.
The Community and Public Sector Union, which represents many of the public servants working at the ABS, says it has “serious concerns” about the capacity of the ABS to run the postal plebiscite. The ABS has faced constant job cuts and demands from government.
The result of the vote will be announced on November 25.
The vote itself will not legalise same-sex marriage. If the result of the vote is “yes”, the government will allow a private member's bill in Parliament in the final sitting fortnight of this year. Members of parliament will be given a free vote, which many people believe will pass.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said no bill will proceed if the people vote “no”.