Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said churches are within their rights to refuse to marry couple who support marriage equality.

Turnbull has encouraged all Australians to debate marriage equality respectfully, but also defended a church that recently cancelled a wedding over the couple’s views, according to The Age.

Ebenezer St John’s church in Ballarat cancelled a couple’s planned wedding because the bride made a post on Facebook in support of marriage equality.

In a letter to the bride, the minister who had been set to marry the couple wrote, “After the pre-marital counselling that you attended and the sermons delivered at Ebenezer on this subject, you must surely appreciate that your commitment to same-sex marriage opposes the teaching of Christ Jesus and the scriptural position practised by the Presbyterian Church of Australia and by me.”

Turnbull spoke out in defence of the church, saying that they have a right to choose who they marry.

“Churches are free to marry whoever they like, you know,” he said.

“Churches are entitled to marry or not marry whom they please. That is part of religious freedom.

“There are many churches, including my own church the Catholic Church, who will not marry someone who has been married before.”

Turnbull doubled down on his defence of religious freedom, saying, “As strongly as I believe in the right of same-sex couples to marry, even more strongly do I believe in religious freedom.”

He promised that if the marriage equality vote returns a majority ‘yes’ result, any marriage equality vote will contain strong protections for religious groups.

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