Julia Gillard, the new prime minister of Australia, has confirmed she does not support gay marriage.

Speaking today, she told the Austereo show that Labor policy on the issue would remain the same while she was prime minister.

She said: “We believe the marriage act is appropriate in its current form, that is recognising that marriage is between a man and a woman, but we have as a government taken steps to equalise treatment for gay couples.”

She said this was also her personal view.

Ms Gillard replaces Kevin Rudd as prime minister, who was also against gay marriage.

Gay rights advocates point to research which shows 60 per cent of the Australian public support equal marriage rights.

Rodney Croome, spokesperson for the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group, said: “Other political leaders have appealed to faith, procreation, tradition, or biological differences between the sexes to justify their personal opposition to same-sex marriages, but as a history-making female leader with no religion and no children none of these reasons are available to Julia Gillard.

“She owes the 60 per cent of Australians who support marriage equality an explanation for why she has let them down.”

Mr Rudd is a devout Catholic but Ms Gillard said today she had not religious beliefs.

She told ABC radio: “I am, of course, a great respecter of religious beliefs, but they are not my beliefs.

“For people of faith, I think the greatest compliment I could pay them is to respect their genuinely-held beliefs and not to engage in some pretence about mine.”

Australian federal law prohibits same-sex marriage. Civil partnerships are legal in the Australian Capital Territory, while domestic registers are in place in some states.