CANBERRA, Australia – Australians will be surveyed on their support for gay marriage from next week after the nation's highest court on Thursday dismissed challenges to the government's power to conduct the postal ballot without Senate permission.
Gay rights advocates argued in a two-day emergency hearing in the High Court in Melbourne that ended Wednesday that the government did not have the constitutional power to survey the public through a 122 million Australian dollar ($97 million) postal ballot on whether the prohibition on same-sex marriage should be lifted.
The judges dismissed both cases argued by separate groups of rights advocates.
The government had already gone to the expense of starting to print the ballot papers, which are to be posted to more than 16 million voters nationwide from Tuesday.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull welcomed the ruling and urged all Australians to take part in the survey, which will be declared on Nov. 15.
"Lucy 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 ... I respect every Australian's view on this matter," Turnbull told Parliament, referring to his wife Lucy Turnbull.
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.
Opponents of gay marriage support the survey, although some conservative lawmakers have said they would not change the law even if a majority of Australians wanted reform.
The survey was the second choice of Turnbull's conservative government that 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.
So the government pushed for a unique, voluntary postal vote without Senate approval. Rights advocates unsuccessfully argued that the Senate needed to approve the spending.
The government had only agreed to let the Parliament consider legislating for marriage equality by December if the survey indicated the reform had the support of a majority of Australians.
Market researchers have said that opinion polling could more accurately gauge the public's view on gay marriage in each of Australia's 150 electoral districts for around AU$1 million — a fraction of the survey's cost.
Lawmakers in the minor Greens party have been planning to push for a bill legalizing gay marriage to be introduced in the Senate next week if the survey were stopped.
Rights advocates say a majority of lawmakers support gay marriage, but the reform could only be achieved in Parliament if government lawmakers were not bound to vote along party lines.