• Reuters

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Hundreds of supporters of same-sex marriage rallied in Australia’s two largest cities on Saturday against a government plan to hold a public vote on the issue, concerned it will cause an increase in anti-gay comments.

Australia’s center-right coalition government introduced legislation to parliament last month to hold a public vote in February on whether to legalize same-sex unions.

However, those rallying in Melbourne and Sydney on Saturday called for parliament to legalize same-sex marriage without a plebiscite, which would cost 170 million Australian dollars ($128.9 million) to conduct.

Advocates of same-sex marriage are concerned public debate around the vote will prove harmful to members of the LGBTI community.

The center-left opposition Labor Party has not formally announced its position on the vote but is expected to block the government’s legislation with the support of independents and minor parties when parliament sits next week.

Business leaders, such as openly gay Qantas Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce, have criticized Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s push for a vote.

Joyce said Saturday it will put the mental health of gay and lesbian Australians at risk.

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