Australian court dismisses challenge to gay marriage survey

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Gay rights advocates Independent Australian Federal Member of Parliament Andrew Wilkie, left, and director of Rainbow Families Victoria, Felicity Marlowe, right, leave the High Court in Melbourne on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017.

Gay rights advocates Independent Australian Federal Member of Parliament Andrew Wilkie, left, and director of Rainbow Families Victoria, Felicity Marlowe, right, leave the High Court in Melbourne on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. (Photo: AP)

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia's highest court cleared the way Thursday for the government to conduct a public survey on whether gay marriage should be legalized.

Gay rights advocates had argued in the High Court that the government didn't have the power to conduct the 122 million Australian dollar ($97 million) postal survey without Senate approval, but the court dismissed that challenge.

Opinion polls show that most Australians want same-sex marriage legalized, but many advocates question how representative of Australian attitudes the postal survey would be.

They want Parliament to decide the issue without consultation with the public.

The government has already begun printing the ballot papers, which are to be mailed to more than 16 million voters nationwide starting next Tuesday.

Results are to be announced Nov. 15, but lawmakers are not bound to accept the outcome.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull welcomed the court ruling and urged all Australians to take part in the survey.

He told Parliament that he and his wife "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 ... I respect every Australian's view on this matter."

Many opponents of gay marriage support the survey, although some conservative lawmakers have said they will not vote for a change in the law even if a majority of Australians want reform.

The postal survey was the second choice of Turnbull's conservative government, which had promised a rare, compulsory vote known as a plebiscite. But the Senate refused to approve the AU$170 million ($135 million) for such a vote.

Market researchers have said that telephone opinion polling could more accurately gauge the public's view in each of Australia's 150 electoral districts for around AU$1 million — a fraction of the postal survey's cost.

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