Anti–marriage equality campaigner Tony Abbott has called on conservatives to “keep the faith” and prepare to continue fighting same-sex marriage.

He said a Yes victory in the marriage postal vote could still be a good thing if it forces “defenders” of tradition out of complacency, SBS News has reported.

“For too long we have put up with the trashing of our country’s history and the rubbishing of our ethical norms because we didn’t want to upset people,” Abbott wrote in The Australian today.

“The challenge will be to keep the faith and stay the course for the even more important struggles ahead.”

Abbott criticised Dean Smith’s proposed marriage equality bill, which would grant religious celebrants the right not to perform same-sex weddings, saying the government must do much more to protect freedom of religion and conscience.

Attorney-General George Brandis called marriage equality “a very, very imprtoant human rights reform” but added that freedom of religious belief should also be respected.

“People should not be obliged to marry same-sex couples against the teachings of their own church,” he said.

“There will be a debate about how wide the exemptions would be, some would have them narrowly cast and some more broadly cast.”

Brandis warned against getting ahead of the result of the marriage postal survey, cautioning that while polls have suggested a Yes win is likely, there could be surprise outcome.

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