A leading Australian MP has claimed a relationships register for gay couples would erode the sanctity of marriage as debate over the controversial bill continues.

Victorian Nationals leader Peter Ryan was one of the first MPs to express his views on the new register, telling parliament it would inevitably lead to legislating gay marriage.

Under the proposed new law, gay couples in Victoria would be able to register their relationship for easier access to entitlements, although the bill would not facilitate gay marriage or civil unions.

Government MPs are expected to support the legislation, while the coalition has been given a conscience vote.

Mr. Ryan told parliament yesterday:

“What this bill does is to establish a structure which is a step toward equalising the notion of a same sex relationship, in particular, with that of marriage.

“I must say I think that anybody who does not see this legislation in that context is being naive and is kidding themselves.”

Introducing the Bill last year, Attorney-General Rob Hulls said it would overcome discrimination and would assist in emergency medical situations by allowing a same sex partner to discuss treatment with doctors.

Mr. Hulls told parliament on December 6: “What this bill does is to enable couples who want the dignity of formal recognition of their loving relationship to register it, to receive a certificate, and to have the security of knowing that their decision to commit to a shared life with each other is respected in Victoria.”

The bill has been met with mixed reactions and while many MPs are supporting the proposal, the register has faced particular opposition from the church.

Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart, with the support of several senior members of the clergy from around Victoria, has written to MPs expressing his opposition to the register.

According to the Herald Sun, Archbishop Hart said in a statement yesterday: “This Bill can only bring harm to the fabric and well being of our community.

“The institution of marriage and family is the key and inimitable institution on which our community is based, and which nurtures our children and brings them to physical and moral maturity.”

However, government MP for Oakleigh Ann Barker expressed support for the proposal.

Ms Barker told parliament: “This is a good bill, it continues our commitment as a government to promote human rights, to provide equality and respect for persons in committed, unmarried relationships and, importantly, it provides them with equality and legal standing in medical, legal and property matters.

“Personally I have many friends in committed relationships. Some of my friends have been in those supportive, caring and loving relationships for more than 20 years … it is absolutely fair that these couples should have the ability to register their relationships to both recognise their commitment to one another and to have legal and medical equality.”

Under the commonwealth’s proposal, a relationship will cost $180 (£73) to register and $59 to revoke.