A New Zealand politician says allowing gay couples to marry is like apartheid South Africa calling the Maori rugby team “honorary whites”.

Former United Future Party MP Gordon Copeland made the comments on Tuesday before a select committee that is currently taking submissions about the country’s proposed equal marriage bill.

“These two relationships are different relationships and putting them together is debasing marriage,” Mr Copeland said.

But gay Labour MP Charles Chauvel warned Mr Copeland that his talk about “different but equal” seemed to echo the apartheid rhetoric, which previously governed the political system of South Africa.

“As gay and lesbians, think about how that analogy makes us feel,” he said.

Mr Copeland claimed his comments were not a racial analogy, but about using the same term to describe two different relationships.

Committee chair Labour MP Ruth Dyson called the remarks offensive and inappropriate.

Outside the committee, Mr Copeland defended his position and denied he was homophobic.

According to Gay New Zealand, Mr Copeland has now been denounced by the current leader of his old party, Peter Dunne, who has described him as a “serial nutter”.

Mr Dunne supports marriage equality.

Mr Copeland left United Future in 2007 and is now president of The Kiwi Party.