Australia prime minister Julia Gillard has withdrawn from speaking at the Australian Christian Lobby's conference in October over its leader's "offensive" comments about homosexuality.
Gillard, an avowed atheist, was due to address the conference on October 6 in Canberra on the topic of "religious freedom in a secular democracy".
But she has now pulled out because of what she described as an "offensive" comment by ACL boss Jim Wallace that smoking is healthier than same-sex marriage.
"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," Gillard said in a statement on Thursday.
"I believe yesterday's comments by Jim Wallace were offensive.
"To compare the health effects of smoking cigarettes with the many struggles gay and lesbian Australians endure in contemporary society is heartless and wrong.
"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."
Wallace made the claim in a debate on marriage equality with Greens leader Christine Milne at the University of Tasmania on Wednesday.
Answering a question from a student on the relevance of his views, he said health statistics among the gay community were worse than those for smokers.
"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 told the audience.
"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."
- Sydney Morning Herald