New York City, N.Y., Nov 3, 2017 / 04:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- If the people of Australia vote to redefine marriage in the country, the consequences will be dire, warned former Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

“The idea that you can just change the definition of marriage and nothing else follows is intellectual fraud,” he said.

Abbott spoke to CNA before a Nov. 1 panel discussion on Australia’s ongoing marriage vote. The panel, held in New York City, was hosted by ADF International, an alliance-building human rights group that promotes religious freedom and the sanctity of life, marriage, and family.

Australia is currently in the final days of a plebiscite on marriage. The plebiscite — or voluntary poll to measure public feedback — asks voters to return mail-in ballots on whether to redefine marriage in the country.

The mail-in vote itself is not legally binding. But Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government has promised to introduce legislation in Parliament to redefine marriage if the majority of voters favor it.

Abbott has been vocally opposed to the redefinition of marriage, warning that it will weaken the institution which serves as the foundation of society.

He also voiced concerns that if marriage is redefined, those who oppose it will find themselves marginalized and penalized, since even now, just voicing support for the longstanding view of marriage as the union of one man and one woman “attracts an instant social media storm and reputational death.”

“Especially if unaccompanied by any wider charter of freedoms, we can expect same-sex marriage in Australia to have much the same consequences as in other countries,” Abbott said at the panel. “People will take offense at the traditional teaching and the anti-discrimination laws can be relied upon to do the rest.”

This is already starting to happen, he said, pointing to Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart, who faced prosecution under anti-discrimination laws for a booklet outlining Christian teaching on marriage.

“People aren’t being argued into changing their minds; they’re being bullied into abandoning their convictions,” Abbott warned.

And these pressures will only increase if marriage is redefined, he told CNA. “The anti-discrimination laws will be deployed, I think oppressively, against people — particularly educators — who put forward the traditional definitions and teachings.”

No matter how the plebiscite turns out, he said, freedom of religion, conscience, and speech need to be reaffirmed, because the current debate has shown how fragile they are in the country today.

Despite opposition, Abbott said he is encouraged by the strong show of support for marriage, especially in large groups of young people. The effort to defend marriage in Australia, he said, has raised millions of dollars and mobilized tens of thousands of donors and volunteers.

“Win, lose, or draw,” he said, “starting from scratch two months ago, the campaign for marriage in my country has mobilized thousands of new activists; and created a network that could be deployed to defend Western civilization more broadly and the Judeo-Christian ethic against all that’s been undermining it.”

These newly activated citizens will be crucial in fighting other challenges to Australian society, such as an effort to legalize assisted suicide in Victoria and a push for gender ideology in schools, he said.

“We need more standard bearers, at every level, because a majority that stays silent soon becomes a minority.”

Ultimately, Abbott sees the push to redefine marriage as part of a broader ailment affecting much of Western society.

“Campaigns for same-sex marriage and the like are a consequence of our civilizational self-doubt and the collapse of cultural self-confidence,” he said, adding that until Western nations address this underlying question, additional challenges to Christian values will continue to arise.

Michael Farris, president of ADF, agreed, warning that a broader process of religious freedom erosion is at work.

In the two years since the Supreme Court unilaterally redefined marriage for the United States, Farris said, “we have seen individuals and institutions increasingly come under fire simply for trying to live their lives, run their businesses, and operate their ministries consistent with the millennia-old belief, shared by millions of people around the world, that marriage is a sacred union between one man and one woman.”

These individuals are not bigots, but “people of sincerely-held religious belief attempting to find their way as entrepreneurs and artists in a new legal landscape,” he continued.

Leading up to the redefinition of marriage in the U.S., “proponents of same-sex marriage quelled fears that redefining marriage would threaten rights of conscience by repeatedly promising that same-sex marriage would not infringe on these fundamental rights,” Farris said.

“Now, Australians are being told the same falsehood.”

In the final days of voting, Abbott warned his fellow Australians to carefully consider the broad consequences of redefining an age-old institution that is so foundational for society.

“This is a decisive vote,” he told CNA, “and it is, one way or another, a watershed moment in the life of our country.”