Australian opposition leader Bill Shorten has been challenged after claiming that government funding for an anti-gay marriage campaign will lead to an upswing in gay suicides.

The country’s PM Malcolm Turnbull has repeatedly blocked a free Parliamentary vote on equal marriage, and is instead bringing forward plans to take the issue to the public in a non-binding plebiscite, to avoid a rift with his own ultra-conservative MPs.

This week it was revealed that the Australian government will hand $7.5 million of funding to anti-LGBT activists to run a ‘No’ campaign, under the draft plebiscite bill.

Labor Party leader Bill Shorten, an outspoken supporter of marriage equality, has said he cannot in good conscience support the plebiscite due to the harmful funding.

Mr Shorten, who has filed his own rival marriage bill, told Parliament: “Let me be as blunt as possible.

“A ‘no’ campaign would be an emotional torment for gay teenagers, and, if one child commits suicide over the plebiscite, then that is one too many.

“Growing up is hard for everyone, but, for young Australians who are grappling with their sexual identity, it can be so much more difficult.

“Every piece of expert advice tells us young Australians who are gay are more likely to contemplate suicide and more likely to take their own lives.

“The idea of young people, perhaps yet to come out, seeing the legitimacy of their identity debated on the national stage—that is not an ordeal which we should inflict on any citizen when we have a better path.”

The comments have been seized upon and mocked by anti-LGBT conservatives.

Peta Credlin, the former Chief of Staff to ex-PM Tony Abbott, fumed: “Anyone who’s come from a family touched by suicide would find that offensive in the extreme. Anyone who’s got family or friends who are gay or lesbian would find that offensive in the extreme,

“Where the government needs to hold Bill Shorten to account is that the Australian people, poll after poll after poll, say they want a plebiscite.”

For the record, Australians are actually overwhelmingly opposed a plebiscite when its non-binding nature and hefty cost are made clear.

Meanwhile, News Corp-owned tabloid the Herald Sun denounced it as “emotional blackmail”, claiming that the pro-equality campaign could equally lead avowed Christians to commit suicide.

Conservative columnist Andrew Bolt fumed: “If one Christian opponent of same-sex marriage commits suicide over Bill Shorten’s destruction of traditional marriage that will be one too many.

“Will Shorten now withdraw his bill? No, of course not. So let’s stop putting dangerous ideas in people’s heads and debate this proposal on the merits, shall we?”

Elsewhere in his speech, Mr Shorten denied that his party is trying to take “credit” for equal marriage by filing a backbench bill and blocking the plebiscite.

He said: “I say to the Prime Minister: this is an issue you said you cared about. You have been Prime Minister for a year now.

“You can get this done and, instead of a private member’s bill introduced by the opposition, let marriage equality be a truly cooperative achievement.

“Join with us and sponsor this legislation, or bring in your own and we will second it. We are prepared to work with the crossbench as well. We do not mind who gets the credit.

“A year, even a week, from now no-one will care whose name was on this bit of paper, but what will stand for all time, to the credit of the 45th Parliament, will be extending equality under the law to all Australians. “