Olympic Gold Medallist Matthew Mitcham is one of 200 cultural leaders who have signed a letter opposing a public vote on equal marriage.

The country’s right-wing Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has avoided a free Parliamentary vote on equal marriage, instead making plans to take the issue to the public in a non-binding plebiscite to avoid a rift with his own conservative anti-LGBT MPs.

But the proposal is being blocked by opposition parties, who support equal marriage but see a plebiscite see it as costly measure that invites homophobic debate rather than swiftly resolving the issue in Parliament.

In a letter this week, more than 200 LGBTIQ Australian leaders in the arts, sport, religion, business and the community sector called on Federal Parliament to vote down a marriage equality plebiscite.

The letter, published as an ad in the Canberra Times, Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age, affirms: “We are proud members of the LGBTIQ community who support marriage equality, but don’t want a damaging plebiscite to get us there.

“We know a plebiscite will ruin lives and cause great distress for our community. There is also a significant risk that a ‘yes’ vote will not lead directly to marriage equality because a plebiscite is not binding.

“We call on the parliament to reject the idea of a plebiscite and instead legislate for marriage equality now.”

Among the 200 signatories are comedian Magda Szubanski, Olympic gold medalist Matthew Mitcham, singer Missy Higgins, actor Simon Burke, opera star Deborah Cheetham, writer Benjamin Law, radio host Julie McCrossin, Uniting Church minister Rev Peter Weeks, comedian Pauline Panstdown, former Australian Medical Association president Kerryn Phelps and the first openly gay senior rugby player Ian Roberts.

Sharyn Faulkner of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) said: “Australia’s LGBTIQ leaders are united in their opposition to a plebiscite and in their call for parliament to vote it down.”

“This reflects the views of everyday LGBTIQ Australians who overwhelmingly oppose a plebiscite under any circumstances according to a recent survey that was the largest of its kind ever conducted.”

“We call on the Senate, and particularly the Labor Party, to listen to the LGBTI community and vote against a plebiscite.”

Just.equal spokesperson, Ivan Hinton-Teoh said: “The LGBTIQ community is overwhelmingly opposed to a plebiscite, not from a fear of losing the poll, but what could be lost in the process.”

“We ask parliamentarians from all parties to work together for a free vote in parliament.”

“In Parliament robust debate can occur in a way that does not divide families and communities, and does not harm LGBTIQ Australians.”

“Marriage equality can be considered, debated and achieved within this term. The government should work with the opposition and cross benchers to make it so.”

The letter is below. (Click to enlarge)