Australian Marriage Equality has come clean and admitted it has set up a separate organisation headed up by the son of Canberra Airport owner Terry Snow to spearhead the “yes” campaign in the event of a plebiscite on same-sex marriage.

Last week Crikey reported that the peak organisation advocating for marriage equality was preparing for a plebiscite by rallying unions, small businesses, Country Women’s Associations and other pro-equality groups. But the group denied the Snow family’s involvement has caused a shift in direction against a free vote towards a plebiscite.

Crikey has since learned the group is directing a potential yes campaign under the umbrella of a new organisation called Australians4Equality. This group’s website receives donations on behalf of AME and it is understood to have AME workers across the organisation.

In an email to supporters in May this year, obtained by Crikey, AME co-chair Alex Greenwich said A4E was being set up to cover all bases in the event of a plebiscite, bringing together “a range of supporters and stakeholders” to build the infrastructure for a yes vote, with AME a “major contributor” for A4E resources.

Greenwich had initially denied the Snow family was donating to AME, but when questioned about A4E, the group admitted Terry Snow’s son Tom Snow was co-chair of the separate group, which received “in-kind” or financial support from the Snow family. An AME spokesperson would not confirm the amount or type of support. Greenwich said that A4E had yet to accept large donations considering the plebiscite had yet to get the go-ahead, but pledges had been made to support A4E.

The other co-chair is the Human Rights Law Centre’s Anna Brown.

Crikey has heard that A4E was set up to avoid a split in AME after the Snow family made support for the group conditional on abandoning its campaign against the plebiscite, which AME director Rodney Croome was opposed to. Greenwich strongly denied this claim, stating Snow was one of the biggest advocates for marriage equality, and had previously supported AME. Greenwich said AME “found it difficult” to do its work advocating for a free vote while also doing the prep work in the event of a plebiscite.

AME is still making the case against the plebiscite, which looks unlikely to be held by the end of the year as the government first promised. AME’s switch appears to be underway, with the group campaigning this week against public funding being offered to either side, in a bid to stop the right wing fringe group Australian Christian Lobby from getting millions of dollars in taxpayer money to fund a campaign that is likely to demonise gay people for wanting to get married.

Crikey last week reported that Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) was polling LGBTI Australians on whether it should switch its focus towards the plebiscite instead of the free vote. The group’s results this week show an overwhelming majority of LGBTI Australians oppose the plebiscite. Of the 5500 respondents, 85% were opposed to the plebiscite — 72% strongly. Even if the question was “fairly framed” 63% are opposed to it; even if the plebiscite was the only way marriage equality could be achieved 58% of respondents were still opposed.

The survey showed 78% of people want the advocacy group to focus on stopping a plebiscite and work for a free vote in Parliament.

There is uncertainty around Croome’s position at AME. He is still an AME board director but, curiously, Croome is quoted by the PFLAG group as a “marriage equality advocate”, rather than as AME director. Greenwich said that Croome, like all marriage equality advocates, was doing what he felt was most effective in delivering marriage equality to Australia.

Croome said in the release that he would be taking the results of the PFLAG survey to MPs and senators in the coming weeks to continue the campaign against the plebiscite.

Attorney-General George Brandis will take legislation to support the plebiscite to cabinet in the next few weeks. Legislation is needed in order to make voting compulsory, and potentially to allocate funding for the yes and no campaigns.

On ABC Radio this morning, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten appeared to soften Labor’s stance against the plebiscite, stating that Labor would “cross that bridge” once the legislation entered Parliament and the public could see what exactly the government was proposing.