Ad­vo­cates for same-sex mar­riage are in­ten­si­fy­ing their cam­paign to win over con­ser­va­tive vot­ers, is­su­ing an open let­ter today from Lib­eral and Na­tion­als min­is­ters to ar­gue that the re­form de­liv­ers on their party val­ues.

The let­ter is signed by 11 cab­i­net min­is­ters, five for­mer cab­i­net min­is­ters, two for­mer pre­miers and dozens of MPs and can­di­dates in a show of strength to as­sure Aus­tralians that chang­ing the law will re­sult in a stronger so­ci­ety as a re­sult of more com­mit­ted re­la­tion­ships.

The mes­sage from more than 50 prom­i­nent party mem­bers also de­clares that a Coali­tion gov­ern­ment will pro­tect re­li­gious free­dom, sig­nalling the risk that a La­bor gov­ern­ment could change the Mar­riage Act with­out sim­i­lar safe­guards.

“Changes to the Mar­riage Act will sim­ply en­sure that re­la­tion­ships recog­nised un­der the law are treated equally,” says the let­ter.

“Min­is­ters, churches and other re­li­gious or­gan­i­sa­tions will re­tain their right to de­ter­mine who they marry and don’t marry in ac­cor­dance with their re­li­gious be­liefs. Al­low­ing same-sex cou­ples to marry takes noth­ing from other re­la­tion­ships.”

The mes­sage is signed by cab­i­net min­is­ters Si­mon Birm­ing­ham, Ge­orge Bran­dis, Dar­ren Chester, Mitch Fi­field, Josh Fry­den­berg, Greg Hunt, Kelly O’Dwyer, Marise Payne, Christo­pher Pyne, Nigel Scul­lion and Arthur Sin­odi­nos. It is also signed by for­mer NSW pre­miers Barry O’Far­rell and Nick Greiner, who is now the Lib­eral Party’s fed­eral pres­i­dent, and for­mer fed­eral cab­i­net min­is­ters Ian Campbell, Fred Chaney, Robert Hill, Amanda Van­stone and Michael Wooldridge.

Other sig­na­to­ries in­clude com­pany di­rec­tor and for­mer au­dit com­mis­sion chief Tony Shep­herd and in­flu­en­tial busi­ness leader War­wick Smith, a Lib­eral min­is­ter in the Howard gov­ern­ment.

The move is an­other sign that Yes cam­paign­ers within the gov­ern­ment are more prom­i­nent in the pub­lic de­bate than their coun­ter­parts on the No side.

In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Con­cetta Fier­ra­vanti-Wells told a No meet­ing in Syd­ney on Saturday that there was strong sup­port for tra­di­tional mar­riage given the di­ver­sity of cul­tural and re­li­gious views across the com­mu­nity. “Call it tra­di­tional val­ues, call it con­ser­va­tive, they are the build­ing blocks upon which mil­lions of mi­grants in this coun­try have built their suc­cess­ful story,” she told about 1000 peo­ple.

“There is no dis­crim­i­na­tion of LGBTI peo­ple in Aus­tralia since bi­par­ti­san sup­port de­liv­ered full equal rights in 2008.”

Other min­is­ters have been more re­luc­tant to speak up de­spite a call from for­mer prime min­is­ter John Howard for gov­ern­ment ac­tion to spell out the pro­tec­tions for re­li­gious free­dom be­fore the postal sur­vey dead­line of Novem­ber 7.

The let­ter in favour of same­sex mar­riage ar­gues that the change is in keep­ing with con­ser­va­tive val­ues. “As Aus­tralians who are com­mit­ted to lib­eral and con­ser­va­tive val­ues, we know mar­riage is an in­sti­tu­tion which builds sta­bil­ity, com­mit­ment and mutual re­spon­si­bil­ity,” it says.

One of the sig­na­to­ries, for­mer Lib­eral MP and as­sis­tant min­is­ter Wy­att Roy, told The Aus­tralian that no gov­ern­ment should reg­u­late Aus­tralians to pre­vent their love be­ing recog­nised as equal. “I will vote Yes for mar­riage equal­ity be­cause as some­one from the cen­tre-right of pol­i­tics, I be­lieve long-term, com­mit­ted, lov­ing re­la­tion­ships are a good thing for our so­ci­ety,” he said.

The leader of the “Lib­er­als and Na­tion­als For Yes” group, for­mer act­ing fed­eral Lib­eral di­rec­tor Andrew Bragg, said those con­cerned about re­li­gious free­dom should sup­port change un­der the Coali­tion rather than La­bor.

“Re­li­gious free­dom will al­ways be pre­served un­der the Coali­tion be­cause we are gen­uinely com­mit­ted to in­di­vid­ual free­dom in all forms,” he said.

“If peo­ple are con­cerned about re­li­gious free­dom, real ex­am­ples should be put for­ward for re­spect­ful con­sid­er­a­tion.”

An­other sig­na­tory, Syd­ney City coun­cil­lor Chris­tine Forster, re­sponded to her brother, Tony Ab­bott, af­ter he said the safe­guards for re­li­gious free­dom should be re­vealed be­fore Aus­tralians voted on the Mar­riage Act.

“A plebiscite was your idea,” she tweeted to Mr Ab­bott. “As a leg­is­la­tor if you thought pro­tec­tions were needed, why haven’t you put them in place?”

Mal­colm Turn­bull has not signed the let­ter but has ar­gued pub­licly for mar­riage equal­ity.

“The threat to heterosexual mar­riage, tra­di­tional mar­riage if you want to call it, is not a gay cou­ple down the road get­ting mar­ried,” he said on Fri­day.

“It’s lack of com­mit­ment, it’s adul­tery, it’s de­ser­tion, it’s abuse, it’s ne­glect. Those are the threats to mar­riage, not other peo­ple want­ing to make a com­mit­ment.”


Christo­pher Pyne, Penny Wong and NSW MP Alex Green­wich in Ade­laide

Ac­tor and co­me­dian Magda Szuban­ski leads a mar­riage equal­ity rally in South Mel­bourne

A dis­sent­ing voice in favour of the No vote is seen in the skies above Syd­ney yes­ter­day morn­ing

Olympic swim­mers Emily See­bohm and Mitch Larkin in Brisbane

Chris­tine Forster, right, and part­ner Vir­ginia Ed­wards

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