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Australia’s High Court Hears Challenges to Same-Sex Marriage Vote

Australian Christian Lobby managing director Lyle Shelton, left, presents Australian Conservatives party leader Sen. Cory Bernardi, right, with 55,000 signatures on a petition at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, Aug. 8, 2017. The petition demands a public vote on whether Australia should allow gay marriage.

Australia's high court has begun hearing legal challenges against the government's plan to hold a voluntary postal vote that could lead to legalizing same-sex marriage.

Ballots are set to be mailed next week to Australian voters that could give Parliament the go-ahead to vote on the measure in December, if the majority of voters check the "yes" box.

But same-sex marriage supporters are fighting to scrap the plan, saying Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's government does not have the legal authority to spend $97 million of taxpayer money on the postal vote. Gay rights campaigners are calling on lawmakers to go on the record with a simple "yes" or "no" vote.

Director Anna Brown of Australia's Human Rights Law Center, which is representing one of the groups that mounted a legal challenge against the voluntary vote, says the plan is "unnecessary" and is proving to be "divisive and harmful" to Australia's gay, lesbian and transgender community.

Prime Minister Turnbull, who supports same-sex marriage, launched the postal vote plan after lawmakers rejected a bill to hold a compulsory plebiscite in November.

The Melbourne-based High Court is holding two days of hearings on the legal challenges to the postal vote.