Australian prime minister Julia Gillard says she opposes gay marriage because it goes against her upbringing.

During an interview with Sky News’s Australian Agenda, she called herself a “cultural traditionalist” who is “on the conservative side in this question”.

Ms Gillard, an atheist, said she had been brought up in “quite a conservative family”.

“I think that there are some important things from our past that need to continue to be part of our present and part of our future,” she said.

“If I was in a different walk of life, if I’d continued in the law and was partner of a law firm now, I would express the same view, that I think for our culture, for our heritage, the Marriage Act and marriage being between a man and a woman has a special status.

“Now, I know people might look at me and think that’s something that they wouldn’t necessarily expect me to say, but that is what I believe.”

There is a push for marriage equality in Australia and Ms Gillard is to allow her party a conscience vote on the issue at this year’s conference.

Last November, the Green Party won a motion calling on MPs to ask their constituents about the issue.

Recent polls are showing increased support for a change in the law.

Before Christmas, Fairfax-Neilsen research found that 57 per cent of 1,400 people were in favour of gay marriage, while a poll carried out for gay rights groups in October found that 62 per cent were in favour.