Melbourne's Archbishop Philip Freier says Anglicans can uphold their views while accepting gay marriage if a plebiscite falls that way.
Australian Anglicans can live with same-sex marriage if a "yes" vote wins a national plebiscite on marriage equality, the church's head says.
Melbourne Archbishop Philip Freier has written to the country's Anglican bishops insisting the church can preserve its view on "holy matrimony" while accepting the will of the people.
"Should the vote be in favour of same-sex marriage, as suggested by opinion polls, the church must accept that this is now part of the landscape," the Australian primate states.
Dr Freier's letter notes that the doctrine of the Book of Common Prayer - that marriage is between a man and a woman "under God" - would remain unchanged.
"I do not believe the Anglican Church in Australia is likely to revise its doctrine of marriage," he writes.
"But ... the church also understands the desire of two people to express their commitment of love and self-sacrifice and Christians have not always shown the respect or perspective they should."
Dr Freier told Anglicans he welcomed the coalition federal government's planned plebiscite on same-sex marriage, albeit it with "strong reservations that we must guard against the tenor of the debate" for the Yes and No cases.
"I am very concerned 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 writes.
Dr Frier added it was important that Christians "vote according to their conscience and their view of what is best for society".
He ended the letter by noting the issue was not a theoretical one for many gays and lesbians who'd sometimes felt judged and rejected.
Australian Marriage Equality says the Archibishop is right to suggest there willl be no negative effect on religious marriage.
"Extending civil marriage to all Australians is good for everyone," AME spokesman Francis Voon said in a statement.
"It takes from no one and makes our society a better, fairer and more inclusive place."
While AME backed Dr Freier's call for a respectful debate, LGBTI rights group just.equal said any plebiscite would be divisive.
Hateful flyers were already being distributed, group spokesman Ivan Hinton-Teoh said on Friday.
"I would expect the church to accept a positive plebiscite result but I would also expect accept a majority vote in parliament," he said in a statement.