The Australian Senate today rejected a bill to give equal marriage rights to gay citizens.

The bill was introduced by the Greens but was defeated 45-5, just days before the world’s biggest gay celebration, Sydney Mardi Gras.

Twenty-six senators were absent from the vote, with some of these choosing to abstain because they disagreed with their parties’ official stances against same-sex marriage.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who introduced the bill, said: ”There may have been a group of senators voting to keep discrimination against same-sex couples being able to marry the one they love, but well over one-third of all senators were absent for the final vote, presumably the only form of protest open to them.”

Marriage equality campaigners claim that 60 per cent of Australian citizens support the right of gay couples to marry.

Alex Greenwich of Australian Marriage Equality, said it was “arrogant” of Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd to “ignore” the public.

He added: “However, the fact that 26 senators were absent from today’s debate is an indication that there is dissent in the ranks of the major parties, dissent which we believe will only grow.

“Because the leaders of the major parties are clearly deaf to the wishes of mainstream Australia we have no choice but to make this an election issue when the nation goes to the polls later this year.”