Australia’s federal government has been accused of “playing to the politics of the extreme right religious lobby” after it forced the country’s Capital Territory (ACT) government to water down plans to legally recognise same-sex couples.

The ACT authorities wanted to establish ceremonies at which gay and lesbian couples could formally register their relationships.

The federal Attorney General warned the ACT legislature that he would not accept “legislation that mimics marriage” and threatened to use his power to overturn any such legislation.

The legislature instead passed a law allowing for the registration of same-sex couples without the ceremony.

The ACT becomes the third of eight Australian states and territories to recognise same-sex partnerships.

In 2004, under former Prime Minister John Howard, federal legislation banning same-sex marriage was passed.

Some had hoped that the defeat of Mr Howard and the Liberals in November 2007 and the election of a new Labour government might move the debate about gay marriage forward.

In fact, while Labour has decided to tackle legal inequities between gay and straight couples, it maintains that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

The ACT Attorney General Simon Corbell has been trying to present civil partnerships legislation since 2006.

When it was rejected by the former Liberal Attorney General Philip Ruddock the language was the same as that used by his Labour successor.

“It’s playing to the politics of the extreme right religious lobby here in Australia represented by the Australian Christian lobby,” Mr Corbell told The Associated Press.

The general election prompted evangelical groups in the country to begin campaigning against gay equality.

The Australian Christian Lobby asked a series of questions of Labour party leader Kevin Rudd, including one on gay rights, and remains confident that it can influence Australia’s 26th Prime Minister.

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

The ACL has been leading the fight against gay equality, and scored a coup last year when it hosted a webcast with Mr Howard and Mr Rudd 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.

Last week the federal government said it would move to end inequities whereby same-sex couples and families get fewer leave entitlements, less workers’ compensation, fewer tax concessions, fewer veterans’ entitlements, fewer health care subsidies, less superannuation and pay more for residential aged care than opposite-sex couples in the same circumstances.