Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has cleared the way for marriage equality to be legislated this year as promised by launching a separate review of protection of religious freedom.

The review of “whether Australian law adequately protects the human right to religious freedom” that had been delaying marriage law reform will now be a separate report to the government due March 31, according to News.com.au.

The deferred review will stop conservative MPs’ calls for amendments to the marriage equality bill from further delaying the process.

Turnbull said any legal changes around religious freedom must be “undertaken carefully”.

“The impending legalisation of same-sex marriage has seen a variety of proposals for legislative reform to protect freedom of religion,” he said in a statement.

“Many of these proposals go beyond the immediate issue of marriage.

“Any reforms to protect religious freedom at large should be undertaken carefully.

“There is a high risk of unintended consequences when parliament attempts to legislate protections for basic rights and freedoms, such as freedom of religion.

“The government is particularly concerned to prevent uncertainties caused by generally worded Bill of Rights–style declarations.

“This will be a timely expert stocktake to inform consideration of any necessary legislative reforms.”

Former immigration minister Philip Ruddock has been appointed to carry out the review into religious freedom.

“The Hon. Philip Ruddock is the right person to conduct this review,” Turnbull said.

“Mr Ruddock has most recently served as Australia’s Special Envoy for Human Rights.

“In his many years in public life he has maintained a steadfast commitment to cultural and religious diversity in this country.”

Along with Ruddock, a panel including president of the Australian Human Rights Commission Rosalind Croucher and other experts will undertake the review.

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