Churches demand taxpayer funding for campaign against same-sex marriage in Australia

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Churches in Australia have asked for millions of dollars in public funds in order to campaign against same-sex marriage ahead of a plebiscite on the issue next year.

While details of the plebiscite are yet to be revealed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and are expected to be unveiled on Tuesday, churches are expected to put pressure on the government to fund campaigns around the vote.

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Churches are expected to put extra pressure on Mr Turnbull if he does not unveil millions of dollars of funding for campaigns on both sides.

News Corp reports that the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies said the money would be available to fund a campaign against same-sex marriage.

According to the report, the Archbishop later met with the Attorney General George Brandis, with who he discussed how much money would be appropriate.

But Mr Turnbull has already said that whatever funding available, will of course be equal on both sides of the debate.

“Any public funding, whatever the nature or terms may be, will be scrupulously equal as … between the ‘yes’ case and the ‘no’ case as you would expect,” he told reporters on Saturday according to SBS.

However the costly and time-consuming plebiscite has already come under heavy criticism for wasting taxpayer funds, and the funding for the campaigns could ad another AUD$10 million for each side onto the estimated $160 million the vote will cost.

Mr Brandis assured that a consultation had taken place with both sides of the debate, saying he knew the plebiscite will be expensive but that the government wants to keep costs down.

The head of the Australian Christian Lobby Lyle Shelton, who opposes same-sex marriage, accused the Irish referendum which led to same-sex marriage becoming legal there of having votes “bought” by “foreign donations”.

The debate over the funding for the campaign has brought more criticism from the opposition, with Labor frontbencher Terri Butler saying this is another reason the issue should not be decided by a plebiscite.

In a surprise twist earlier this week, an Australian church leader broke with the pack to say Christians who feel in their conscience that they should vote in favour of same-sex marriage should do so.

Turnbull has broken an election pledge he made to hold a public vote om same-sex marriage by the end of the year, announcing that it will take place in 2017.

The Prime Minister said that he could not just hold a parliamentary vote on equal marriage because “he is not a dictator” – so a public vote is being held.

Labour have criticised the move calling it expensive and pointless. The vote is estimated to cost $160 million of taxpayers money, or as much as half a billion dollars, according to estimates by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The liberal party remains divided on equality issues and Turnbull himself has been a vague supporter of equal marriage.

He previously came under fire for removing LGBT content from a sex education campaign.