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''I believe that the majority of Australians believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.''

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The government is set to announce a referendum will be held on September 14 on constitutional recognition for local government but key independents led by Tony Windsor have called for a second question to be attached to the paper on recognition for same sex marriage.

Christian groups want a referendum on gay marriage, saying Australians will reject any change to the status quo if the question posed was a ''black and white'' choice on whether to allow ''homosexuals to marry''.

Senator Madigan has introduced a bill that would allow citizens to initiate referenda. He predicted if a public vote were held on same sex marriage, it would be defeated.

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''I would think that if the arguments were presented in a balanced way without the accusations of homophobia or bigotry that are often put towards those who support marriage, I think there would be every chance that people would stick with what has been the status quo for millennia,'' he said.

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As divisions emerged among the Greens and same sex marriage advocates over a referendum, Reverend Fred Nile joined the Australian Christian lobby in calling for the matter to be decided on election day.

Senator Penny Wong compared the referendum push to the 1999 republic referendum, which failed across all states despite having strong public support.

Australian Christian Lobby spokesman Lyle Shelton said his organisation would make the case for preserving the traditional definition of marriage. ''This is something that people are very passionate about,'' he said.

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In the lead up to the Labor Omega Speedmaster Black Alligator

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The push for a referendum has split pro gay marriage supporters.

collected more than 100,000 signatures on a petition against gay marriage.

''I think the majority of people would vote no if the question was clear.''

Mr Abbott said the independents and the government were Omega Seamaster 600m Chronograph seeking to ''muddy the waters'' of the election that, he said, should be ''uncomplicated by other matters'' other than the carbon tax and the performance of the Labor government.

''The question has to be black and white: Do you agree that homosexuals should be legally married?

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He predicted there would be ''every chance'' that a public vote to allow same sex marriage would be defeated.

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He called on the Catholic and Anglican churches to come in opposition to gay marriage.

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But Democratic Labor Party Senator John Madigan, an opponent of same sex marriage said he had ''no problem with giving the people the opportunity to express their views'' in a referendum

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He told Fairfax Media: ''I think people should decide the issue.

In comments that appeared to confirm she was backtracking, Ms Milne told reporters on Monday that a referendum would be a ''distraction'' and the issue should be decided before election day in Parliament. ''The only impediment is that the Coalition won't provide a conscience vote,'' she said.

Rev Nile said the Christian Democratic Party would man every booth and hand out how to vote cards to help those voting no on the issue.

Marriage equality campaigners fear the financial might and organisational infrastructure of the churches could mean a referendum fails despite recent polls that put support for same sex marriage at more than 70 per cent

Australian Marriage Equality national convener Rodney Croome said: ''We fear cashed up opponents of marriage equality would exploit a referendum to polarise the electorate and demonise gay and lesbian people in a way that will impact badly, particularly on young gay people.''

''But the question has to be clear. A question like 'are you in favour of marriage equality?' will confuse some people. I'm in favour of marriage equality between a husband and a wife.

Fairfax understands senator Sarah Hanson Young, who has portfolio responsibility for marriage equality, lobbied leader Christine Milne to reverse her support for a referendum.

''John Howard and Tony Abbott ran a very good fear campaign and we lost that referendum,'' she said.

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Christian groups welcome gay marriage referendum

Rev Nile said his Christian Democratic Party had been ''pipped at the post'' by Mr Windsor and had planned to publicly call for a referendum next week.

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