Liberal Party federal president Nick Greiner has been named the patron of the Coalition’s Yes campaign for the same-sex marriage survey and has criticised tactics from the No camp in trying to make it a debate about other issues.
Mr Greiner, a former NSW premier, will be a key figure in the Liberal and Nationals Yes campaign, with the group seeking to reach out to conservative voters and persuade them of the merits of changing the Marriage Act.
Mr Greiner slammed people in the No campaign, such as Tony Abbott, who were claiming it was a vote about freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
He said it was a debating tactic being used by a side that didn’t think it could win the argument on its merits.
“The deliberate conflating of issues only happens when people know they cannot win an argument on its merits. Conflation should be called out for what it is, a debating device,” Mr Greiner writes in The Australian today.
“When I, and decades later Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher, were in the St Ignatius College debating team, we were taught if we didn’t think we could win on the merits, we should attempt to move the debate to more favourable grounds. This is what is happening here.
“We should not be distracted by red herrings in this debate. We are discussing who can and who can’t get married under Australian law.”
He said religious freedom would never be taken seriously by the Labor Party, which was why a change to the Marriage Act needed to be drafted by the Coalition.
“The necessary religious protections for ministers of religion, religious marriage celebrants, and use of church grounds and services, will be assured,” Mr Greiner said.
“Such freedoms are at the forefront of legislation drafted by senator Dean Smith and MPs Tim Wilson, Warren Entsch, Trent Zimmerman and Trevor Evans.
“Any case for enhancing protection for religious freedom exists today and is not dependent on a change to marriage laws.”
The Liberal and Nationals Yes campaign — which has the early backing of cabinet ministers Simon Birmingham and Kelly O’Dwyer — launched a television ad at the weekend showing a range of Coalition voters who support a change.
The campaign aims to use credible conservative voices to give Coalition voters confidence that the push for legalising same-sex marriage was not a movement of the left.
Mr Greiner said widening marriage would be a reform in line with conservative values as it would enable more people to raise families and play stronger roles in the community.
“As the home of liberals and conservatives, there is a very strong case for Liberals to back same-sex marriage.”
He noted more than one billion people lived in countries where same-sex marriage was legalised. “The experience in these countries has been that no one has become more gay, or less married,’’ he said.