The Australian Prime Minister faced accusations of homophobia today when he vowed to block any attempts to “undermine” marriage.

John Howard’s government threatened to introduce legislation to counter plans in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) to introduce a law on same sex unions.

If the Civil Partnership bill is successful in ACT areas such as Canberra, it would be a landmark for Australian law, although it could still be overturned by the federal government

Mr Howard views the ACT plans as a threat to 2004 federal legislation which defines marriage as a union between man and woman, he said: “We will always seek to remove areas of discrimination against homosexuals but there is a special place in Australian society for the institution of marriage as historically understood and we do not intend to allow that to be in any way undermined.”

Attorney General Philip Ruddock wrote to ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope warning him about the government’s reaction, he said: “”It suggests to people who might be interested in civil union that what they have is a marriage, when in fact it is not.”

Mr Stanhope described the bill as “an acceptance of other relationships for same-sex couples and indeed for those opposite sex couples who don’t wish or don’t choose to pursue a marriage under the Marriage Act.”

He suggested in an interview with ABC Radio that the federal government’s reaction may be due to homophobia, “One has to pose the question of whether or not the real reason is that there is no place in John Howard’s Australia for homosexuals.”