Australia’s right wing Prime Minister has ruled out ever recognising gay marriages.

John Howard, Australia’s Prime Minister was reacting to the first gay marriages to be held in Britain earlier this week.: “I would be opposed to it. I think marriage is for men and women. That’s why we amended the Marriage Act (in August last year).”

Mr Howard claimed that he is not seeking to discriminate against gay people but that he believes: “very strongly that marriage is exclusively a union for life of a man and a woman to the exclusion of others.”

Mr Howard’s stance was criticised by former Australian Medical Association President Kerryn Phelps who married her gay partner in New York eight years ago. Speaking to the Australian (a daily newspaper) she said: “”I have serious concerns about the intrusion of the church into matters of the state. Gender is the least important factor in determining whether a relationship is worthy of marriage.

“It makes me angry, disgusted, it makes me ashamed in many respects of our system of government and it makes me determined Australia should have a bill of rights that enshrines equality.”

Britain and Canada are thus far the only Commonwealth countries to offer gay marriages although South Africa is likely to be introducing a version in 2006.