Lawmakers in the Australian Parliament have overwhelmingly rejected a bill that would have introduced equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.

The House of Representatives voted 98-42 against the legislation last night.

It was the first of four bills introduced to the parliament that aimed to lift the country’s ban on same-sex marriage.

A separate bill was also being debated in the Senate on Wednesday.

The defeat was expected, on Tuesday, Finance Minister Penny Wong was seeking to down play expectations.

“It will mean that it is very difficult for this bill to pass,” Senator Wong told ABC radio.

Although Senator Wong’s own boss, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has staunchly opposed supporting equal marriage, Ms Wong is blaming opposition leader Tony Abbott for the defeat.

Mr Abbott has refused to allow his MPs a conscience vote on the issue.

Despite the defeat, Australia’s gay rights movement have vowed to continue their fight for marriage equality.

The Brisbane Times reports Alex Greenwich from Australian Marriage Equality as saying:

“Now the federal parliament has effectively brushed the wishes of a majority of Australians aside, the states and territories will take the lead, making me confident we will see same-sex marriages performed somewhere in Australia by the end of the year”.

In New South Wales, a cross-party group of MPs is drafting a bill on the issue after Liberal Premier Barry O’Farrell and state opposition leader John Robertson granted a conscience vote to coalition and Labor members.