The head of an Australian Christian group has claimed that smoking is healthier than the “lifestyle” promoted by gay marriage.

Jim Wallace, head of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), made the statement during a debate at the University of Tasmania on Wednesday, reported the AAP.

“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,” said Wallace.

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

Following the debate, Wallace continued to argue his point: “We need to be aware that the homosexual lifestyle carries these problems…

“Where gay marriage has been introduced, or civil unions, it hasn’t changed the level of suicide. We have to accept the unfortunate levels of suicide, the unfortunate levels of excessive drug use (are) because of the nature of the lifestyle.”

He went on to express his sadness for the gay and lesbian community. “I am very sorry for that. My heart goes out to those people. But it is a fact,” he said.

LGBT rights groups slammed Wallace’s misleading use of statistics to defend his anti-gay agenda and noted that the outdated figures he used were from the height of the AIDS crisis in San Francisco.

They also asserted that it is society’s homophobia and discrimination that leads to health and lifestyle problems among gay and lesbian people.

“Yes, there are health problems in parts of the gay and lesbian community, but they are caused by the prejudice of people like Mr Wallace and the discriminatory laws he defends,” the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group spokesman Rodney Croome said in a statement.

“The quoting of irrelevant and biased studies to stigmatise gay Australians is a low and desperate tactic that diminishes Mr Wallace and his cause,” Croome added.

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