Christine Forster: Tony Abbott's Machiavellian games on marriage must stop says his sister Christine Forster

When my fiancée Virginia and I heard news of Thursday's High Court decision to allow the postal plebiscite on same-sex marriage, our immediate reaction was one of relief. Finally we have a clear and immediate path to marriage equality in Australia.

Virginia and I have been engaged since 2013. Since then the debate over same-sex marriage has waxed and waned as our federal politicians - including my brother, former prime minister Tony Abbott - have played relentlessly Machiavellian games with an issue that matters little to most of them personally. But for us, and our many friends who plan to marry, it has been an awful roller coaster ride, mostly of gut wrenching dips as our hopes for change have been raised, only to be repeatedly dashed.

The most significant disappointments were the August 2015 Coalition party room decision to deny a free vote on marriage in parliament, followed quickly by new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's backing of a plebiscite.

Very few people who count themselves in the "yes" column would have chosen to have the issue decided by any form of plebiscite, let alone one that has morphed due to political expediency into a non-compulsory postal survey.

Since 2012, I have advocated for the reform to be put to a free vote in parliament. After all, that is what we elect our parliamentarians to do: enact legislation on our behalf. That's what occurred in 2004 when Prime Minister John Howard changed the law to specify that marriage could only be between a man and a woman.

But the reality is the politics of the day, influenced heavily by the personalities involved, meant the plebiscite was the policy the government took to the 2016 election, delivering it an undeniable mandate that the High Court has now confirmed.

Those who have argued against a plebiscite have done so for legal, political, social and moral reasons. But the main issue has always been the potential divisiveness of asking all Australians to give consequential consideration to the question of whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

That process has inevitably landed the country in a heated political campaign which provides opportunity for the intolerant, on both sides, to deny and deride their opponents.

It is the heavy responsibility over the coming weeks of both the yes and no campaigns, which are led by some of our most senior politicians past and present, to ensure the rhetoric from all advocates remains above the "bullies or bigots" standard. It's also their responsibility to prosecute their cases truthfully, respectfully and fairly. 

The question put to the people will be simply whether they think same-sex couples should be allowed to marry under Australian law. It is not about the freedom to preach or practice religion, or what is taught by whom to our children, or being politically correct or otherwise. It is just about whether or not every Australian and their family, friends, neighbours and colleagues should have the same right to marry.

Because ultimately the yes and the no campaigns are arguing about the same thing: the special nature of marriage. Everyone intrinsically knows that marriage is a relationship exalted above all others, not just by religious people but by all people. It is the only way, other than by birth or adoption, that we can choose our family. That is why it is enshrined as a secular institution in our constitution and is now administered under our federal Marriage Act.

But it's the special status of marriage that makes the yes case so compelling. I don't know a single person who wants to wed - straight or gay - who does not wholeheartedly respect the significance of marriage. All of them believe marriage will strengthen their commitment to each other, their families and ultimately their community, and it defies logic to suggest that letting them into the club will in any way diminish the special relationship of any heterosexual couple. On the contrary, allowing more people who profoundly revere and desire marriage to take that step can only provide greater security for the institution.

Rather than divide us, the plebiscite is a chance for Australia to come together. Over the coming weeks there will be millions of conversations held in homes, restaurants, offices, shops, churches, schools, hospitals and myriad other places about whether or not all Australians should be able to marry. 

That will provide the opportunity to stop, listen, think and feel about what marriage means to each of us. It will be a time for those who want to get married to share our stories of why it's so important to us, to our families, our friends and the next generation of Australians. A time for those who are already married to reflect on how that relationship has enriched their own lives and ask themselves, would I deny that opportunity to another person who seeks it?

Vote yes!