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Australia gay rights advocates take court action against public survey

Calling the planned postal vote on gay marriage "demeaning," gay rights activists have gone to court in a bid to have parliament decide the issue. Most Australians want same-sex marriage legalized, according to polls.

Australien Homo-Ehe-Demonstranten in Sydney (Getty Images/AFP/P. Parks)

Supporters of marriage equality demonstrate in Sydney

The Australian government is pushing ahead with a postal vote on the issue of same-sex marriage after parliament rejected a national plebiscite and refused to approve the 179 million Australian dollars (113 million euros) that the November vote would have cost.

As a result, the government headed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull opted for a voluntary postal vote without Senate approval at a cost of 122 million Australian dollars (82 million euros).

Seven judges are to hear two similar cases simultaneously over Tuesday and Wednesday in the city of Melbourne.

The first case has been brought by an independent lawmaker and two gay rights campaigners. One of the plaintiffs, Shelley Argent, described the postal survey as a "demeaning, hate-filled and pointless vote that will go nowhere and resolve nothing."

The second case has been brought by a senator in the Greens party and the Australian Marriage Equality lobby group. Senator Janet Rice argues that marriage equality is a human right that should not be subjected to an opinion poll.

According to a 2016 Gallup opinion poll, 61 percent of Australians support same-sex marriage.

Parliamentary vote

The activists opposing the postal vote say it is an unnecessary expense and instead, MPs should have a free vote in parliament on the issue, and should not be restricted by party policy.

Anna Brown, from the Human Rights Center said she was confident the Melbourne court would rule the vote invalid.

"The postal plebiscite is unnecessary and is already proving divisive and harmful. LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex) groups strongly oppose the plebiscite and so do we," Brown said. "Telling one group of people that their rights have to be decided by a public vote sends a terrible message."

Ballot papers were due to be sent out next week.  If the ballot does go ahead and Australians vote in favor, the government would hold a free vote in parliament on the issue, with MPs not bound by party policy or the postal ballot's result.

If the result was "no" then no vote would be held in parliament.

jm/bw (AFP, AP)

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