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