Australians overwhelmingly endorse gay marriage in postal survey
Australians have said they support gay marriage in a postal survey that ensures the Parliament considers a bill to legalize same-sex weddings this year.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Wednesday 62 percent of registered adults who responded had voted for the reform in an unprecedented two-month survey.
The conservative government had promised to allow the Parliament to consider a bill to create marriage equality in Australia in its final two-week session that is due to end on Dec. 7.
While gay marriage could be a reality in Australia by Christmas, some government lawmakers have vowed to vote down gay marriage regardless of the survey's outcome.
Opponents have also questions the legitimacy of any same-sex marriage law since several lawmakers could potentially be disqualified from Parliament due to a constitutional ban on dual citizens standing for election.
Ireland is the only other country in the world to put the divisive issue to a popular vote.
In Ireland, 61 percent of registered voters turned out for a referendum in 2015 and 62 percent of those voted to change the constitution to allow marriage equality.
In Australia, almost 80 percent of more than 16 million registered voters posted in ballots, despite gay marriage opponents describing it as a boutique issue that did not interest most of the public.
Gay rights advocates had opposed the non-binding 100 million Australian dollar ($76 million) survey as an unnecessary obstacle to achieving equality.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee last week criticized Australia for putting gays and lesbians "through an unnecessary and divisive public opinion poll." The committee called on Australia to legislate for marriage equality regardless of the survey's outcome.
In 2015, then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a same-sex marriage opponent, committed his conservative government to holding a compulsory nationwide vote to decide whether the unions should be legal.
He was replaced weeks later by current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who supports marriage equality and opposed the public vote but eventually agreed to it in a deal with party powerbrokers.
The Senate refused to fund a compulsory vote, however, so the government opted for a voluntary postal ballot. Critics said it was unlikely to accurately reflect public opinion.
Abbott was head-butted by a gay rights advocate during the campaign in September. Kevin Rudd, a center-left Labor Party prime minister whom Abbott defeated in elections in 2013, blamed the postal ballot for an assault on his godson Sean Foster, 19, as he campaigned for marriage equality
Australian lawmakers are already moving to wind back anti-discrimination laws to reduce barriers for people who would boycott gay weddings.
Debate is intensifying on whether Australians who would refuse to provide gay weddings with a celebrant, venue, flowers or a cake should have added protection against anti-discrimination laws.
Several government lawmakers on Monday released a draft gay marriage bill that critics argue would diminish current protections for gays against discrimination on the grounds of sexuality.
Turnbull on Tuesday ruled out downgrading anti-discrimination laws.