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Asians split as Obama backs gay marriage

world Updated: May 10, 2012 22:10 IST

US President Barack Obama's ground-breaking support for same-sex marriage was met with applause from beleaguered gay rights campaigners in Asia today, but also with scorn from hardline opponents.

Rights and marriage for homosexuals barely figure on mainstream political agendas in the Asia-Pacific region, where traditional values dominate in many societies and sodomy remains illegal in some.

As in the United States, religious conservatives decried Obama, and most gay rights campaigners said in fact that the issue of wedlock was premature for now.

The region's only country where there is a serious debate about legalising gay marriage is Australia, but Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she was unswayed by Obama's change of heart and would continue to oppose it.

"I've made my mind up and my position on this is well known," she told reporters after Obama for the first time said that same-sex couples should be able to wed, igniting a fury of election-year debate in the United States.

Gillard said that when a bill calling for legalising gay marriage comes before the Australian parliament later this year, "I won't vote for it".

"This is a matter that people form their own views on, a deeply personal question, people will think about it, work their way through it."

Australia passed a legal amendment in 2004 explicitly defining marriage as between a man and woman, but activists believe pressure is mounting for Canberra to extend the right to same-sex couples.

Cheering supporters in Australia expressed hope that Obama's announcement would set a precedent that ripples across the Pacific.

Reverend Jeremy Greaves, whose liberal church in Darwin welcomes worshippers "regardless of sexual orientation", said: "I think for gay people within the church it'll come as a wonderful surprise and a great bit of news.

"I think for many gay people there's been a long struggle for recognition in the eyes of the church and the state, and I think this is another sign that times are changing for them," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

In the mainly Catholic Philippines, the only country in the world apart from the Vatican which still bans divorce, President Benigno Aquino's government said cautiously that any change to the law would have to come from lawmakers.

But even the Progressive Organisation of Gays in the Philippines said it was not pushing for same-sex marriage, while hoping that Obama's advocacy would prompt Aquino to address other issues of concern.