BREAKING NEWS | High Court throws out marriage-equality postal vote challenge

VOTE GOES AHEAD | Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be relieved by the High Court decision. Picture: Alex Ellinghausen

VOTE GOES AHEAD | Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be relieved by the High Court decision. Picture: Alex Ellinghausen

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About 16 million people will start getting ballot papers from Tuesday, asking: 'Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?' You have to Nov 7 to return your form. Results due Nov 15.

The Turnbull government's postal vote on same-sex marriage has been given the green light, with the High Court rejecting a legal challenge to the controversial survey just six days before ballots are due to be mailed out to millions of households.

The decision will come as a relief to the government, which would have been placed under renewed pressure to find another way to hold a survey or plebiscite, or through a free vote in Parliament, if the postal survey had been derailed.

Instead, about 16 million people on the electoral role will start receiving ballot papers from Tuesday, which will ask the single question: "Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?"

Voters will have until November 7 to return their forms, with a result due on November 15.

The challenge was brought by two groups: the first comprising Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, Shelley Argent from Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays; and Victorian mother of three Felicity Marlowe. The second involved Australian Marriage Equality and Greens senator Janet Rice.

Their cases focused on the claim the government had unlawfully financed the postal vote through a special funding pool that sets aside money specifically for matters that are "urgent" and "unforeseen".

Opponents had told the High Court that Finance Minister Mathias Cormann had not met that criterion, in part because Coalition ministers had been discussing "alternative measures" as early as March to deliver on the promise of a plebiscite.

Supporters of the challenge, Sarah Marlowe, Felicity Marlowe and Jacqui Tomlins outside court this week. Picture: Justin McManus

Supporters of the challenge, Sarah Marlowe, Felicity Marlowe and Jacqui Tomlins outside court this week. Picture: Justin McManus

They also argued the Australian Bureau of Statistics did not have the authority to collect the kind of information requested of it, and the postal vote did not fall under the "ordinary annual services of government".

However, Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue QC argued that while a compulsory plebiscite had been previously canvassed a voluntary vote run by the ABS had not been decided by cabinet until last month – and therefore had not been foreseen.

Independent Andrew Wilkie and Felicity Marlowe leave the High Court in Melbourne on Wednesday. Picture: Luis Ascui

Independent Andrew Wilkie and Felicity Marlowe leave the High Court in Melbourne on Wednesday. Picture: Luis Ascui

He said there was an urgent need for the government to deliver on its policy, and rejected claims that the money should have been appropriated through a vote in Parliament.

Same-sex marriage advocates say they are disappointed the "divisive" postal vote will go ahead, but have vowed to campaign hard for a "yes" vote, buoyed by opinion polls showing the majority of Australians want marriage equality.

Vote in our poll here.

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