Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has pulled out from attending a Christian lobby conference after its head suggested smoking was healthier than an LGBT lifestyle.

Yesterday, PinkNews.co.uk reported Jim Wallace, from the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), as stating that legalising equal marriage in the country would be a bad move because he claims LGBT people generally have higher rates of health inequality compared to the average heterosexual smoker.

Mr Wallace made the remarks, earlier in the week, during a same-sex marriage debate at the University of Tasmania.

When answering a question from a student on the relevance of his views, he said:

“I think we’re going to owe smokers a big apology when the homosexual community’s own statistics for its health – which it presents when it wants more money for health – are that is has higher rates of drug-taking, of suicide, it has the life of a male reduced by up to 20 years”.

Mr Wallace continued: “But what I’m saying is we need to be aware that the homosexual lifestyle carries these problems and … normalising the lifestyle by the attribution of marriage, for instance, has to be considered in what it does encouraging people into it”.

However, Mr Wallace’s argument failed to take into account a number of pieces of research that suggest legalising same-sex marriage would actually be of benefit to public health.

He was also criticised by gay rights campaigners for using out of date research.

In response, Ms Gillard, an atheist who opposes legalising marriage for same-sex couples, said the debate about the issue should be “respectful and responsible”.

“I believe yesterday’s comments by Jim Wallace were offensive,” she said in a statement.

“To compare the health effects of smoking cigarettes with the many struggles gay and lesbian Australians endure in contemporary society is heartless and wrong.

“Although everyone is entitled to their own view, these statements reiterated again today on behalf of ACL are totally unacceptable.

“In light of this, I believe my attendance at the conference would be inappropriate.”

Mr Wallace had issued a rebuttal, saying: “I was not comparing homosexuality with smoking at all.

He added: “What I was saying is that on one hand we are vocal on our discouragement of people to smoke and on the other we are suppressing public dialogue about the health risks associated with homosexuality.”

Ms Gillard was due to attend the ACL conference and make an address at it next month.