New Zealand’s prime minister has said he is ‘not personally opposed’ to allowing gay couples to marry, but added that it was not part of the government’s legislative programme.

John Key, the centre-right National Party prime minister, said a bill could be considered but that there were no government plans to introduce one, the New Zealand Herald reports.

Civil unions have been legal in New Zealand since early 2005, a move broadly opposed by the National Party at the time.

Mr Key opposed the bill which introduced those unions, citing the opinion of his electorate.

Previous Labour prime minister Helen Clark had said later that year she thought the ban on gay marriages was discriminatory but that there was public support for the system as it stood then.

Current Labour Party leader David Shearer has said he supports the move in principle.

The party’s justice spokesman, Charles Chauvel, told the Herald that US president Barack Obama’s support for marriage equality this week, “helps to highlight the issue of equality and keep it on the agenda and more and more New Zealanders are saying it’s a no-brainer, people should have these rights.”

The paper said a poll in 2011 had found 60 per cent in favour of equal marriage rights for gay and straight couples and 34 per cent opposed.

Support for such a measure rose to 79% among those aged 18 to 34.