A Christian opponent of marriage equality in Australia has compared homosexuality to incest, and said that people with same-sex attraction can be “cured.”

Dr David Phillips, president of Family Voice Australia, said that “gay marriage” was as wrong as wanting to marry “a close relative,” in testifying to a House of Representatives committee examining two bills concerning equal marriage. He added: “I rather liked my cousin, and I was told that’s really not recommended, so we had a discussion in the family about those things. You can even marry an uncle, from memory.”

Meanwhile, Bishop Julian Porteous, representing the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said that equal marriage would cause problems concerning gender identity for children. “If the definition of marriage is changed, it threatens this whole understanding of our own identity, and in turn that will lead to people being less secure about who they are and that can lead to society being damaged,” he said.

Gay rights advocates have been quick to condemn these messages as outrageous and offensive. Shelley Argent, spokesperson for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, said: “If they did have a gay son or a lesbian daughter and they took the time to understand the issues, they would know what nonsense they’re talking about.” Ms Argent added that murderers, rapists and paedophiles had more rights than gay people wishing to marry.

The hearing also contained a representative from the Federation of Buddhist Councils, and from gay couples who had been married abroad. Both said civil unions did not go far enough.

Rev Robert Forsythe of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney added: “Marriage is a contract between two people. We believe it’s good when it’s blessed in a religious context, but religion doesn’t make marriage.”