Church push for gay debate 'freedom' slammed

A BID by churches to allow greater freedom during the public debate over gay marriage has been slammed by marriage equality proponents.

The Australian Christian Lobby is pushing for anti-discrimination laws to be suspended to allow Australians who oppose changes to marriage laws to express themselves in the lead-up to a national plebiscite.

There is also a push for equal public funding of both sides of the debate.

But Australian Marriage Equality national director Rodney Croome has warned that vulnerable Australians could be affected by attacks on gay rights.

"It's concerning that the ACL's advocacy for an unnecessary plebiscite has now turned to using the plebiscite as an excuse to suspend laws that protect vulnerable Australians and to receiving public funds,'' Mr Croome said in a statement.

"It's impractical and unnecessary to suspend anti-discrimination laws in every state and territory."

"Instead, both sides should be mature enough to sit down and agree on the framework for a free and respectful debate, facilitated by the Human Rights Commission or some other impartial body."

"Public funding for the 'yes' and 'no' cases should be equal and kept to the absolute minimum, with resources directed instead to counselling for those people whose mental health will suffer from attacks on their basic rights."

ACL managing director Lyle Shelton told Fairfax Media his organisation was very concerned about fairness during the campaign as state anti-discrimination laws in particular have "such a low threshold".

Pointing to a case in Tasmania where the Catholic Church has faced questions from the state's Anti-Discrimination Commissioner over a "Don't mess with marriage" booklet, Mr Shelton warned those who argued against same-sex marriage would be faced with the "constant threat of quasi and full-blown legal action".

Mr Shelton stressed that those in the "no" camp were not seeking to say anything bigoted, but to put forward the "millenia-old" argument that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

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