Jim Wallace, the head of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), has defended remarks comparing smoking health risks with being gay.

Wallace made the remarks in the course of debating gay marriage with Greens leader Christine Milen on Wednesday.

“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,” Wallace said.

“The life of smokers is reduced by something like 7 to 10 years and yet we tell all our kids at school they shouldn't smoke.”

Senator Milne noted that “the mental health issues for young gay people particularly are certainly increased when discrimination occurs.”

After the debate, Wallace claimed he had been misquoted.

But in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC), Wallace repeated his claims.

“[T]oday you've been complaining that you've been misquoted and taken out of context but in this conversation you are clearly once again linking the health effects of smoking to what you see as the detrimental health effects of being gay. ...”

“No, no I'm not,” Wallace interrupted.

“Do you really think that a gay person will have their life cut short because of their sexual preference?”

“Well because of the prevalence of disease, the worst outcomes of gay people, yes, of course, that's a very high likelihood,” he said. “And anybody who looks at the statistics can't deny that.” (The video is embedded on this page. Visit our video library for more videos.)

Wallace's comments prompted Prime Minister Julia Gillard to cancel her plans to speak at the Christian Lobby's national conference next month.