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In 2017, the Australian government authorised a national voluntary survey to determine the level of support for legalising same-sex marriage. The survey was held via the postal service between 12 September and 7 November 2017. The survey asked the question “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”
A number of pressure groups, some personalities, and some of the media including “The Age”, campaigned vigorously first to stop the survey going ahead, and then to try to persuade people to reject gay marriage.
There were two legal challenges in the Australian High Court about the survey.
Shelley Argent, of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and Felicity Marlowe, of Rainbow Families) and independent MP Andrew Wilkie went to the High Court on 9 August 2017 to seek a temporary injunction. The survey was also challenged in the High Court by Australian Marriage Equality and Greens Senator Janet Rice. The High Court found that the survey was lawful.
A 17-year-old boy who was excluded from voting challenged that with the Australian Human Rights Commission. About 50,000 Australians aged 16 and 17 were registered on the electoral roll to vote. The boy dropped his complaint on 22 September after legal advice.
The survey returned 7,817,247 (61.6%) “Yes” responses and 4,873,987 (38.4%) “No” responses. An additional 36,686 (0.3%) responses were unclear and the total turnout was 12,727,920 (79.5%).
The Liberal–National Coalition government had pledged to facilitate a private member’s bill to legalise same-sex marriage in the Parliament in the event of a “Yes” outcome.
Many same-sex marriage proponents were critical of the postal survey, viewing it as a costly delay and legally redundant to holding a conscience vote on same-sex marriage in the parliament.
As with the Brexit vote in Britain, there was a rush of people registering to vote; by 24 August 2017, the closing date for new registrations, 98,000 new voters had added themselves to the roll. Survey forms were mailed out during two weeks commencing 12 September 2017. They were required to be returned for counting by 27 October 2017.
The Australian Parliament both passed the gay marriage law on 7 December 2017.
Updated 8 December 2017