Gay slur sparks Gillard boycott of Christian event

THE Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has pulled out of speaking at the Australian Christian Lobby's national conference after its leader suggested a homosexual ''lifestyle'' was more hazardous to health than smoking.

The group's managing director, Jim Wallace, made the comment in Tasmania this week during a debate on same-sex marriage.

It has outraged same-sex marriage campaigners, who called for Ms Gillard to distance herself from the group by withdrawing from its conference, to be held in Canberra on October 5 and 6.

Ms Gillard yesterday described Mr Wallace's comments ''offensive'' and said she would not speak at the lobby's conference.

''To compare the health effects of smoking cigarettes with the many struggles gay and lesbian Australians endure in contemporary society is heartless and wrong,'' she said. ''Although everyone is entitled to their own view, these statements reiterated again today on behalf of ACL are totally unacceptable.

''In light of this, I believe my attendance at the conference would be inappropriate.

''There are a range of deeply held views in the community on the issue of same-sex marriage but it is the responsibility of all parties in this debate to be respectful and responsible in any public comments they make.''

Mr Wallace said Ms Gillard's withdrawal would come as a ''deep disappointment'' to Australian Christians. He said her decision had been based on ''inaccurate media reporting and misrepresentation by gay activists''.

''This is a victory for the relentless campaign of demonisation against anyone who would challenge the gay activists' agenda in the public square,'' he said.

Mr Wallace denied that had said smoking was healthier than gay marriage.

''What I did say is that heterosexual sex and homosexual sex are different and have different health consequences,'' he said.

''They should not be packaged the same way as marriage because, as just one of many reasons, they are different.

''If we warn against smoking because it carries health dangers, we should also be warning young people in particular about activity which clearly carries health risks.''

The Australian Rainbow Labor Network, which provides advocates on gay rights within the Labor Party, congratulated Ms Gillard on her stance and decision. The Australian Marriage Equality convener, Alex Greenwich, thanked Ms Gillard ''for so strongly rejecting the extremism of the Australian Christian Lobby.''

The president of the Australian Medical Association, Steve Hambleton, said Mr Wallace's comments were ''appalling'' and the comparison of homosexuality with smoking was ''totally inappropriate.''

He said many of the poor health outcomes seen in the gay community were due to discrimination, and if discrimination was removed, health outcomes would improve. A bill to legalise same-sex marriage is before federal Parliament and a vote is expected before the end of the year.

The bill, introduced by the Labor backbencher Stephen Jones, looks likely to be defeated by the combined forces of its Labor opponents - including Ms Gillard - and the Coalition.

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