Melbourne Archbishop Philip Freier has released a letter he wrote to Australia's Anglican bishops, saying the church "must accept" same-sex marriage as part of the landscape if a national plebiscite is carried.
In the letter, Freier differentiates between types of marriage, saying that if civil marriage is amended to include same-sex couples, the church can still reserve its definition of marriage as between a man and a women.
"We can still stand for and offer holy matrimony between a man and a woman as a sacred ordinance given by God, while accepting that the state has endorsed a wider view of marriage," he wrote.
In the 2011 census, 17% of Australians identified themselves as Anglicans – second to 25% who are Catholic.
Freier also noted that Anglicans are not uniform in their positions on same-sex marriage, and gave the green light for people to land on either side of the debate.
"Individual Anglicans have adopted a variety of positions taken in good conscience based on their Christian understanding of the principles and issues, and this is right and proper," he wrote.
Freier said he personally welcomed the plebiscite, but feared a divisive debate, and called for more pastoral sensitivity towards LGBT people in the church.
"I am very concerned that the discussion does not become harsh or vilifying – on either side, for it is not only Christians who have sometimes failed on this score," he said.
The president of the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA), Stuart McMillan, told BuzzFeed News the church would not take part in the plebiscite campaign as it has been engaged in an internal discussion on marriage theology since 2012.
The Uniting Church is Australia's third largest, encompassing 5% of the population, and currently defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
"As we are engaged in our own discernment process, we will not be formally involved with other groups lobbying on the marriage issue," McMillan said.
Instead, the church's involvement will consist of "resources for respectful conversations on marriage" available on the UCA website.
"Uniting Church ministers and members are free to express personal opinions or take part in campaigns in the course of the national debate, so as long as they are clear that they are expressing personal views and not speaking on behalf of the Uniting Church," McMillan added.
McMillan published a blog on Friday urging church members to remain graceful throughout the marriage debate.
"It is easy to harm each other with careless words. So we should all choose ours carefully," he said.
"We are committed to being an inclusive Church that embraces LGBTIQ people as full members and to culturally appropriate discussion about relationships and marriage across our diversity."
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at email@example.com.
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