Australian Treasurer Peter Costello has caused outrage amongst gay campaigners after labelling same sex marriage as appalling and offensive.

The comments came after gay couple Professor Kerryn Phelps and her partner Jackie Stricker asked Mr Costello about the government’s failure to legally recognise same sex partnerships in the same way as heterosexual marriages.

Mr Costello replied that marriage should only apply only to heterosexual partnerships.

He highlighted homosexuals access to their partner’s superannuation as an example of how the government had recognised gay rights.

Mr Costello, who was addressing a debate at the Sydney Institute, added: “I think we do recognise the rights of gay and lesbian people in Australia, we do not criminalise conduct or behaviour.”

Ms Stricker felt these comments made out how homosexuals should just feel lucky that the government does not criminalise gay sex, she said: “I thought that was appalling. It was offensive. I found it suggesting that we were lucky that we weren’t being thrown in jail”

Prof Phelps said it would be like saying to Mr Costello at the Sydney mardi gras: “You are really lucky that we don’t lock you up because you are heterosexual.”

“That’s as offensive as his comment to people who are in a committed same sex relationship, we have in this country vast number of families with same sex couples as the parents. Their children don’t have the same rights, the individuals in those relationships don’t have the same rights, as people in heterosexual marriages.”

Prof Phelps said added sex couples gaining use of the word marriage was itself “not a big deal”.

“But it is symbolically important because it recognises that the relationships of same sex couples are on par in emotional and spiritual terms, and should be on legal terms.”