MORE than 40 religious leaders have signed an open letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull urging him to pursue free vote on marriage equality in parliament.

The leaders fear the campaign surrounding a plebiscite would cause harm to the LGBTI community, silence people of faith, and cause unnecessary division among broader Australian society.

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 “A volatile, public and politically-charged debate could both distance leaders from lay people, marginalise faith communities from broader society and alienate LGBTI individuals within religious communities,” the letter reads.

Regarding the LGBTI community, the letter says: “After decades of legalised discrimination, and ongoing social stigma, LGBTI Australians will face an angry, drawn-out debate, one likely to multiply existing disadvantages and stigma.”

The letter comes days after the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) began pushing the federal government to “override” anti-discrimination laws during the upcoming plebiscite campaign.

ACL managing director Lyle Shelton told Fairfax Media that the ACL had pushed for “some sort of… setting aside of these [anti-discrimination] laws”.

Shelton has since been criticised by various public figures, including Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs.

The religious leaders’ letter also emphasises a fear that groups like the ACL would be seen to speak on behalf of other religious groups, when many people of faith “support the in-principle separation of law from confessional beliefs”.

“By uniting a confessional doctrine (on marriage) to a specific public policy, a plebiscite threatens to undo the social consensus central to Australia’s secular-religious harmony,” the letter says.

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Reverend Angus McLeay, spokesperson for the alliance of faith leaders, said in a statement: “A national plebiscite has the potential to cause significant harm to Christians and others of faith through a highly politicised moral debate that polarises our communities and silences LGBTI people of faith.

“The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) does not speak for large sections of the Christian community.

“We are writing to the Prime Minister so that he is aware of the diversity of opinion within faith communities and the concerns held by many over the plebiscite path.

“ACL claim to be a voice for Christian values yet many struggle to see the grace and love of Jesus in their words.”

Signatories of the letter come from all over Australia and include Father Rod Bower, the priest of the well-known Gosford Anglican Church; Metropolitan Community Church pastor Greg Smith; Reverend Bill Crews, the founder of Exodus Foundation; Wayside Chapel founder and pastor Graham Long; and Reverend Margaret Mayman, the out lesbian priest of Pitt Street Uniting Church, Sydney.

Full list:

Rev’d Jean Shannon
Chaplain, Canberra, ACT

Rev’d Ben Gilmour
Superintendent Minister, Paddington Uniting Church, NSW

Rev’d Dr John Squires
Minister, Wauchope Uniting Church, NSW

Rev’d Robert Clark
Pastor, MCC Good Shepherd, Granville, NSW

The Venerable Rod Bower
Archdeacon, Gosford Anglican Church, NSW

Rev’d Greg Smith
Pastor, Metropolitan Community Church, Sydney, NSW

Rev’d Clive H. Norton
Priest, St Basil’s Anglican Church, Artarmon, NSW

Rev’d Laurie McIntyre
Minister (Canon Emeritus), Bowen Mountain, NSW

The Venerable Peter MacLeod-Miller
Archdeacon, St Matthew’s Anglican Church Albury, NSW

Gregg Heathcote Shin
Buddhist Priest, Newcastle, NSW

Rev’d Bill Crews
CEO & Founder Exodos Foundation, NSW

Rev’d Janet Dawson
Minister, Uniting Church NSW

Rev’d Michael Palmer
Rector, St Michael’s Anglican Church, Vaucluse, NSW

Rev’d Dr Keith Mascord

Benjamin Oh
Co-convenor, Rainbow Catholics InterAgency for Ministry, NSW
Honorary Curate, Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill, NSW

Father David Smith
Rector, Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill, NSW

Rev’d Graham Long
CEO & Pastor, The Wayside Chapel, Sydney, NSW

Rev’d Dr Margaret Mayman
Minister, Pitt Street Uniting Church, NSW

Rev’d Clare Brockett
Minister, Uniting Church, Sydney, NSW

Rev’d Dr Leigh
Neighbour Pastor, Metropolitan Community Church, Brisbane, QLD

Rev’d Penelope Jones
Priest St Luke’s Toowoomba, QLD

Rev’d Dr Ray Barraclough
Secretary, A Progressive Christian Voice Australia, QLD

Rev’d Susan Pickering
Minister, West End Uniting Church, Brisbane, QLD

Rev’d Dr Noel Preston
Minister, Uniting Church in Australia , QLD

Rev’d Colin Gurteen

Rev’d Canon John Fowler
Minister, Anglican Diocese of Willochra, SA

Minister, Kingston Uniting Church, TAS

Rev’d Damien Stevens
Co-Convenor, Uniting Network, Shepparton, VIC

Rev’d David Connolly
Vicar, St Stephen’s Anglican Church, Richmond, VIC

Prof Emeritus Rev’d Gary Bouma
Minister, St John’s Anglican Church, East Malvern, VIC

Rev’d Angus McLeay
Minister, Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, VIC

Rev’d Noel Whale
Priest, Holy Trinity Port Melbourne, VIC

Rev’d Matt Glover
Counsellor, Ringwood, VIC

Rev’d Nathan Nettleton
Pastor, South Yarra Community Baptist Church, VIC

Rev’d Peter Weeks
Minister, Craigieburn & Wallan Uniting Church, VIC

Rev’d Dr Paul Tonson
Minister, Uniting Church Minister, VIC

Rev’d Dr Avril Hannah-Jones
Minister, Williamstown Uniting Church, VIC

Dr Muriel Porter
Anglican Lay Leader, Diocese of Melbourne, VIC

Father David Moore
Vicar, St John’s Anglican Church, Camberwell, VIC

Rev’d Cath McKinney
Minister, University of Divinity, Melbourne, VIC

Canon Dr Colleen O’Reilly
Vicar, St George’s Anglican Church, VIC

Rev’d Michelle Trebilcock
Minister, St John’s Anglican Church, Camberwell, VIC

Rev’d Carolyn Francis
Minister, Collins Street Baptist, VIC

Rev’d Tony Murray-Fiest
Chaplain, Anglican Church Perth, WA

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