The Prime Minister of Australia has addressed an event organised by a faith-based charity where he faced calls to ban state recognition of non-married couples.

The National Strategic Summit on Marriage, Family Fatherhood was held at the Australian Parliament yesterday.

Prime Minister John Howard told delegates that marriage is “the best social welfare device mankind has ever devised.”

Politicians from other major parties attended the conference, organised by the Fatherhood Foundation.

It ended with a demand that the federal government amend the Marriage Act to ban states from recognising same-sex or de facto straight relationships in the same way as heterosexual marriages.

Mr Howard’s Liberal government passed federal legislation in 2004 banning same-sex marriage.

Despite this all states and territories of Australia have in place a form of domestic partnership or registered partnership for all couples.

One speaker at yesterday’s conference, Dr Stuart Reece, said that a gay “lifestyle” led to negative health outcomes from obesity to sexually transmitted diseases.

The Australian newspaper reports that he called homosexuality an “addiction.”

The conference took place ahead of a general election in Australia later this year.

Both the governing Liberal and opposition Labour parties appear to be keen to court the religious vote.

Last month Mr Howard and the Opposition leader Kevin Rudd made their pitch for Christian support in a webcast streamed live to more than 700 churches across the country.

During the session, which was also broadcast on Australia’s ABC Local Radio, Mr Rudd was asked about his views on gay marriage by a Christian leader.

“I have a pretty basic view on this, as reflected in the position adopted by our party, and that is, that marriage is between a man and a woman,” he replied.

ABC Local Radio reported that Rudd had ruled out recognising same sex marriage or civil unions.

Under a Federal Labour Government, gay couples might be allowed to “register” their relationships.