On Thursday last, I went to my post office to check my mail and noted, with some surprise that there were three same-sex marriage postal survey envelopes inside. One was addressed to me, the others to a married couple — I’ll call them the Smiths — who had been previous tenants of my post box.

Over the past few years that I’ve rented this post box, I’ve received enough of the Smiths’ mail — the junk mail I throw in the bin, the rest I would take the Elvis option and readdress as “Return to Sender — not at this address” — sufficient to work out what the Smiths did with their lives: they’d run an auto-service business, had an interest in wine, guns and mail-order junk, had various superannuation, bank and insurance accounts and received birthday and Christmas cards from friends.

From time to time I’d wonder whether the Smiths had just dropped off the planet, assumed new identities or just forgot to organise their lives and mail. Apart from the minor annoyance of readdressing their mail, their problems weren’t mine.

[How the marriage equality postal vote will actually work]

Until last Thursday, when I picked up their two same-sex marriage survey envelopes. What should I do with them? Bin them? Readdress them back to the Australian Bureau of Statistics or maybe get a little sneaky and rip them open, tick the boxes of my choice and send them off?

In the past, when faced with such a dilemma, I might have sent a note off to Dear Abby, everyone’s favourite agony aunt, on whose shoulder such moral conundrums could safely be rested.

Mindful of the delay and uncertainty that such a course would involve, I did the next best thing and asked my pals on Facebook. I’ll admit to the smallest of white lies, telling my faithful Facebook companions that I was “asking for a friend”, but the responses were, err, interesting if not scientifically valid.

Me being a person of the vague left-leaning kind, most of my friends share similar views. One wag reckoned I should “Auction the cunts!” while plenty of others went with the wholly predictable “Yes, Yes, Yes.” Another told me that “There is no proof of who filled in the survey forms. No paper trail. Who is to know? I think your friend already knows what they are going to do.”

Another saw it as my moral responsibility to act according to my own beliefs, saying “It is beholden on you to exercise their democratic rights in absentia”, while another, assuming that I would do precisely that, cautioned, “Make sure you don’t mix up the envelopes and the voting forms. They have bar codes that match voter with addressee.”

[How the postal plebiscite might skew the vote]

But, as ever, the lawyers saved the day — or dampened any enthusiasm that I might have to take matters into my own hands. A fellow learned friend reminded me of the provisions of the Telecommunications and Postal Services Act 1989, specifically sections 85R to 85ZK as found in part VIIA of that act. As this handy explainer from Sydney Criminal Lawyers notes, tampering with someone else’s mail:

“… includes interfering with mail receptacles, stealing mail before delivery and opening mail that you are not authorised to open, as well as a number of other illegal activities. There are harsh penalties for tampering with mail, including fines and possibly even a prison sentence. If you have been charged with tampering with mail or a related offence, it is a good idea to find an experienced criminal lawyer to advise you on your best defence.”

The penalties are harsh and:

“… include a maximum prison sentence of five years. Whether you receive five years imprisonment or two years imprisonment largely depends on whether you tampered with the mail with dishonest intentions or not.”

All that got me thinking … but I’ve got it sorted now and I’m happy with my decision.

What would you have done? Drop me a line.

*This article was originally published at Crikey blog The Northern Myth