SSM survey: Malcolm Turnbull says churches free to marry who they want, despite John Howard criticism

SSM survey: Malcolm Turnbull says churches free to marry who they want, despite John Howard criticism

SSM survey: Malcolm Turnbull says churches free to marry who they want, despite John Howard criticism

Updated 15 September 2017, 14:20 AEST

Malcolm Turnbull says religious freedom "is fundamental and it will be protected" if same-sex marriage is legalised, despite former PM John Howard's concerns.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has rejected former PM John Howard's criticisms that religious freedom is at risk if same-sex marriage is legalised.

Yesterday Mr Howard said Mr Turnbull's Government was "washing its hands of any responsibility" to protect religious freedoms.

His critique included that Mr Turnbull has not said what specific legislation will be put to parliament if there is a majority Yes vote in the same-sex marriage survey.

Mr Turnbull resisted the pressure from Mr Howard to provide specifics of the type of religious protection that would be in a bill to change the marriage laws.

But he said there would be "strong protections for religious freedoms".

"I just want to reassure Australians that as strongly as I believe in the right of same-sex couples to marry, even more strongly, if you like, do I believe in religious freedom," Mr Turnbull said.

"Religious freedom is fundamental and it will be protected in any bill that emerges from this Parliament."

Mr Turnbull indicated there was a very broad consensus across parties in Parliament to ensure that churches were not affected by any change and were not forced to conduct same-sex marriage.

But opponents of same-sex marriage, including Mr Howard, are pushing for that to go much further and include a guarantee that religious schools could teach that marriage could only be between a man and a woman.

Howard urged to formally join process

Mr Turnbull pointed out that a Senate committee examined the issue last year and found there was very broad backing for protecting religious freedoms.

He noted that Mr Howard had not put in a submission to that Senate committee, but invited the former PM to be involved in the process rather than be an external critic.

"We will welcome John Howard's contribution, John can make an enormous contribution with his experience and expertise. I look forward to him doing that," Mr Turnbull said.

Turnbull defends churches' rights to 'marry whom they please'

Mr Turnbull asserted that same-sex marriage did not represent a threat to heterosexual marriage.

"The threat to marriage is lack of commitment. Threats to marriage are neglect, desertion, adultery and so forth," Mr Turnbull said.

Mr Turnbull defended the right of churches to choose who they marry.

He was challenged about whether it was fair for a church in Victoria to reportedly refuse to marry a heterosexual couple because they posted a Facebook status supporting gay marriage.

"Churches are entitled to marry or not marry whom they please, that is part of religious freedom," the PM said.

"My own church— the Catholic Church — will not marry someone who has been married before."