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Australia To Hold Postal Survey On Same-Sex Marriage

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Australia is moving forward with a postal survey on legalizing same-sex marriage, the Australian High Court ruled on Sept. 7.

The decision comes after less than 24 hours of debate, which is highly unusual for High Court cases, The New York Times reports. The court has not yet revealed the reason for the survey.

Both those who oppose and support same-sex marriage have contested the voluntary survey. It is not necessary for members of Parliament to hold a vote on the matter and lawmakers are in no way bound to vote by its results.

One of the main legal arguments against holding the vote is whether the government inappropriately allocated funds for the survey without first seeking the approval of Parliament. 

Australian law allows for the finance minister to allocate up to the U.S.-equivalent of $236 million dollars for "unforeseen" or "urgent" circumstances, which the plaintiffs argued was not applicable in this case. The postal survey -- which The Guardian reports will be sent to 16 million Australians -- is estimated to cost the equivalent of $97 million U.S. dollars, The New York Times notes.

Member of Parliament Andrew Wilkie, PFlag (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and Felicity Marlowe, a lesbian mother from Melbourne challenged the matter on the pro-same-sex marriage side. On the side against allowing for same-sex marriage, Sen. Janet Rice and Australian Marriage Equality also challenged the survey, The Guardian notes.

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The court heard both plaintiffs' arguments in a single hearing on Sept. 6 and 7. Ron Merkel QC, who represented both sides, said the ballot was "unique and offensive" in that it put "to the public a vote on [Marlowe’s] family unit." He also argued on the side of same-sex marriage opposition that the survey had been inappropriately funded.

Speaking for the government, Solicitor General Stephen Donaghue said the survey did not discriminate against Marlowe's family, rather the existing marriage law did. They also argued that the finance minister's allocation of the money was lawful since there had been a previous election promise to hold a postal survey on the issue.

The seven judges of the High Court unanimously ruled to dismiss both parties' cases. In addition, the judges ordered the plaintiffs to pay all legal costs.

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull issued a statement after the court's decision was announced.

"Lucy [Turnbull's wife] and I will be voting yes and I will be encouraging others to vote yes, but ... above all, I encourage every Australian to have their say because unlike the leader of the opposition I respect every Australian’s view on this matter," said Turnbull.

The New York Times reports that

Opposition leader Bill Shorten had asked Turnbull in Parliament if he would "now accept [Shorten's] invitation to write a joint letter to all Australians recommending voting 'yes' to marriage equality," to which Turnbull expressed doubt that joining their signatures would increase the chances of people voting "yes."

Australia's Attorney General George Brandis and Special Minister of State Mathias Cormann said the survey will be sent out on Sept. 12. The result will be announced on Nov. 15.

Sources: The New York Times, The Guardian / Featured Image: Bidgee/Wikimedia Commons / Embedded Image: Kurt Lowenstein Education Center/Flickr, Adrian Cadiz​/Jim Mattis/Flickr

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