09/08/2017 10:52 AM AEST | Updated 09/08/2017 2:48 PM AEST

The Postal Vote On Same-Sex Marriage Is Now In Play

The original plebiscite is dead. Again.

CANBERRA -- The Turnbull Government proposal to hold a compulsory popular vote on same-sex marriage has died a second political death, pushing Australia towards a voluntary, legally questionable postal plebiscite run by the agency responsible for #CensusFail.

A short time ago, and as expected, the Senate voted to reject to restore the original enabling legislation for a plebiscite for debate with the vote tied 31-to-31.

Labor, the Greens and the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) voted to oppose the bill, while One Nation and senators Jacqui Lambie, Derryn Hinch, Cory Bernardi, Lucy Gichuhi and David Leyonhjelm sided with the government.

This effectively kills off the bill.

As part of the debate, Labor Senate Leader, Penny Wong gave a stirring speech warning about the harmful debate surrounding the fight for marriage equality.

She said the debate is hurtful now and will only get worse during campaigning for a popular vote.

"Have a read of some of the things which are said about us and our families and then come back here and tell us this is a unifying moment," Wong told parliament.

"The Australian Christian lobby described our children as the stolen generation. We love our children."

"And I object, as do every person who cares about children, and as do all those couples in this country, same-sex couples who have kids, to be told our children are a stolen generation?

"You talk about unifying moments? It is not a unifying moment. It is exposing our children to that kind of hatred."

The acting special minister of state, Mathias Cormann, appeared stunned, looking down during Wong's speech.

She essentially accused the government, including the Prime Minister, of not doing enough to stop the harmful words, to get up and say "this is wrong".

"Maybe he can stand up for some people who don't have a voice. Because we know the sort of debate that is already there," Wong said.

"Let me say, for many children in same-sex couple parented families and for many young LGBTI kids, this ain't a respectful debate already."

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull stated on Tuesday that a "yes" vote in the postal vote will be followed by a free vote based on a private members' bill to legalise same-sex marriage. A "no" vote will not.

Opposition Leader Bill Shortenis demanding the postal plebiscite be put aside to let parliament hold an immediate free vote.

"I believe in God and I believe in marriage equality under the civil law of the Commonwealth of Australia," he told an interfaith breakfast in Canberra.

"I know that some do not share this view and I recognise that for some people of faith this is a most vexed question. It's one of the reasons I believe we should have a free vote in the Parliament."

Meanwhile, former prime minister Tony Abbott has urged people to "vote no" on same-sex marriage to "stop political correctness in its tracks".

"I say to you if you don't like same-sex marriage, vote no," he told reporters in Canberra.

"If you're worried about religious freedom and freedom of speech, vote no, and if you don't like political correctness, vote no because voting no will help to stop political correctness in its tracks."

Going postal will cost up to $122 million and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), not the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) will be running the show. The ABS is that agency shown to be completely unprepared for the first online Census.

Using the ABS as the lead agency means the Government can request extra funding for the postal vote without trying to pass legislation through a hostile senate.

The key here is the acting Special Minister of State, Mathias Cormann describing the postal vote as an "unforeseen item of expenditure" which he did in the Senate on Wednesday.

"This is unforeseen to cover the cost of $122 million for this exercise designed to give the Australian people a say on whether or not they believe the definition of marriage should be changed," Cormann told parliament.

"I have the power to appropriate the money. They have the power to expend the money under a combination of section 61 of the Constitution of the executive power and the powers under their various pieces of legislation."

The Government claims to be on firm legal ground, but the legal advice has not been released.

Australians could start voting in five weeks with mailed ballots expected to arrive in letterboxes from mid-September, but the timing now depends on any expected legal challenges by marriage equality advocates.

That means voters must make sure electoral roll details with the AEC are correct over the next four weeks.

Young people, who are more likely to vote in favor of same-sex marriage, are expected to be unlikely to use the post. One marriage equality advocate within the Liberal Party, Warren Entsch, expects the turnout to be as low as 30 to 40 percent.