There is growing pressure within the federal Opposition for a conscience vote on same-sex marriage, with former Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull joining Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce in backing a free vote.

“I think a conscience vote on issues of this kind are appropriate,” Turnbull wrote to a constituent who had asked him to “persuade Tony Abbott and your party room colleagues to allow a free vote” on the issue.

Turnbull’s support comes just days after Joyce told news media, “If there is a whole Coalition push for a conscience vote there won’t be a problem from us — it is important to give people their say”.

Liberal senators Simon Birmingham and Russell Broadbent have also signalled their support for a conscience vote, with Birmingham saying that “religious, moral and ethical considerations” around the issue made it an “obvious topic for a conscience vote”.

Australian Marriage Equality (AME) national convenor Alex Greenwich welcomed Turnbull’s comments.

“Turnbull joining the diverse range of Coalition voices that are OK with a Coalition conscience vote, ranging from [NSW Premier] Barry O’Farrell to Barnaby Joyce, shows how far the debate is coming within Coalition ranks,” Greenwich said.

“[Opposition leader] Tony Abbott knows there is support within the Coalition for reform. Attempting to bind his party to vote in line with his narrow view is a clear sign of this.

“A Labor platform change and a Coalition conscience vote will mean the country should finally be able to move on from an unnecessarily divisive debate.”

The push for a conscience vote within the Coalition comes as Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie introduced a motion reassuring religious groups that they would not be compelled to marry same-sex couples against their faith.

The motion, which reads “Should the Marriage Act be amended to allow same-sex marriages the amendments should ensure the Marriage Act imposes no obligation on a minister of religion to solemnise such marriages,” is expected to be debated early next year.

The motion was welcomed by prominent Uniting Church clergy including the Reverend Bill Crews.

“It seems to me that in a secular and non-discriminatory society gay couples should be as free to marry as any other human couple,” Crews said.

“If people wish to be married within a religious or spiritual institution’s framework then they should accept the rites and rules of that institution. However, it is the state that legitimises all marriages.”

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