The Turnbull government will hold a people's vote on same-sex marriage, almost certainly in the form of a $122 million postal vote, with a view to resolving the issue by the end of the year, the Canberra Times reports.
The government will ask the Senate to approve a compulsory plebiscite on November 25, but in the likely event that is rejected, it will hold a postal vote with a November deadline.
Despite being doomed to fail in the Senate, the Liberal Party is sticking with its election commitment to give everyone a say on marriage equality.
The ballot would be voluntary, and conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics between September 12 and November, with a result to be declared by November 15.
If Australians return a majority "Yes" vote, the government will facilitate debate on a bill to legalise same-sex marriage before the end of the year, but MPs will not be bound to respect the will of the people.
That means same-sex marriage could be legalised by December 7, the last day Parliament sits this year. But if the majority of Australians vote "No", the government will refuse to allow a vote in Parliament.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who as acting Special Minister of State, has responsibility for the plebiscite, said a voluntary postal vote did not breach that election promise because it would "keep faith" with the undertaking to give all Australians their say on marriage equality.
"We did not actually determine the specifics on what form that plebiscite will take until after the election," Senator Cormann said. "There is absolutely no doubt that a postal plebiscite still keeps faith the commitments we made."
Same-sex marriage advocates previously vowed to challenge any voluntary postal vote in the High Court, having obtained legal advice indicating it would be invalid without supporting legislation.
But Senator Cormann insisted the legal validity of a postal vote, facilitated by the ABS, was "undoubted". Officers from the Australian Electoral Commission would be seconded to assist with the survey, Senator Cormann said. The total cost would be $122 million, slightly cheaper than the $170 million compulsory attendance plebiscite.
John Howard defends Malcolm Turnbull on same-sex plebiscite (The Australian)
Please let voters end gay marriage circus (Herald Sun)