Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said that debating gay and lesbian couples' right to marry is “legitimate.”

Australia's governing Liberal Party earlier this month pushed for a postal vote on same-sex marriage after it blocked an effort to allow its members a conscience vote on a bill that sought to extend marriage rights to gay couples. The postal vote, however, is non-binding, which means it is only an opportunity for the public to be included in the debate. While voting is not compulsory, a recent survey showed that 67 percent of Australians plan to participate in the vote.

Appearing on 2Day's The Em Rusciano Radio Show, Turnbull told host Em Rusciano that opponents of same-sex marriage had a right to express their views on the issue because it is “a legitimate debate.”

“You cannot ask respect from the 'no' case if you're not prepared to give respect to the 'no' case,” Turnbull said.

“The vast majority of people who do not agree with same-sex marriage … they are not homophobic, they don't denigrate gay people. They have a view about marriage and they believe it should remain between a man and a woman.”

Turnbull was asked about a campaign poster that called on Australians to “stop the fags” and claimed that “92 percent of children raised by gay parents are abused, 51 percent have depression, 72 percent are obese.”

He answered that he “deplored” such language but added that “the only way to stop people [from] saying things that you find hurtful is to shut down free speech.”

Turnbull reiterated his support for marriage equality: “The threats to traditional marriage … are not gay people getting married. The threats are desertion, cruelty, neglect, abandonment, indifference. Those are the threats.”