Gillard, who has said she opposes gay marriage, was due to deliver the keynote address at an Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) conference in October but cancelled her appearance after Jim Wallace made what she described as "offensive" remarks, The Herald Sun reports.
Wallace made his comments in a debate on gay marriage with Greens Leader Christine Milne in Hobart on Sept 5. "I think we're going to owe smokers a big apology when the homosexual community's own statistics for its health — which it presents when it wants more money for health — are that it has higher rates of drug-taking, of suicide, it has the life of a male reduced by up to 20 years," he said, according to The Herald Sun. "The life of smokers is reduced by something like seven to 10 years and yet we tell all our kids at school they shouldn't smoke."
"But what I'm saying is we need to be aware that the homosexual lifestyle carries these problems and . . . normalising the lifestyle by the attribution of marriage, for instance, has to be considered in what it does encouraging people into it," Wallace added.
"To compare the health effects of smoking cigarettes with the many struggles gay and lesbian Australians endure in contemporary society is heartless and wrong," Gillard countered in her Sept 6 statement. "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."
In his own Sept 6 statement, Wallace says gay activists have "misrepresented his comments about smoking in a deliberate attempt to demonise and to shut down debate."
“I was not comparing homosexuality with smoking at all. What I was saying is that on one hand we are vocal on our discouragement of people to smoke and on the other we are suppressing public dialogue about the health risks associated with homosexuality. Instead of more free speech-suppressing vitriol and demonisation from the gay activists, there needs to be an open and honest debate before Parliament changes the definition of marriage,” he says.
The ACL says Gillard's decision to withdraw from the conference is disappointing and would be seen as "the abandonment of the Christian constituency," The Herald Sun reports.
The Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) reports gay rights campaigner and Liberal MP Warren Entsch as saying that Wallace's comments are "stupid, spiteful and disgusting."
Entsch added in part, "When I read this I thought that Jim Wallace must have been hibernating under a rock or in a cave somewhere in the deep, dark depths of the wilderness of Tasmania, maybe on the western coast somewhere . . ."
Incidentally, Tasmania's lower house of parliament passed a same-sex marriage bill on Aug 30, paving the way for what many expect will be a tougher path through the upper house. The bill, cosponsored by the Australian state's Labour Premier Lara Giddings and Greens Leader Nick McKim, was passed by a 13 to 11 vote. If the bill prevails in the upper house, Tasmania will be set to become the first Australian state to allow gay marriage.
"At the core of this debate is the belief that we are all equal before the law, and where the law prejudices one person over another change is required," Giddings observed.
Landing image: Website for the Prime Minister of Australia