In what is believed to be a national first, the Western Australian branch of the National Party has voted in support of same-sex civil unions.

A motion supporting gay unions and proposed by the WA Young Nationals won the backing of the majority of delegates at an annual state conference last week.

The move came days after Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce said gay Big Brother contestant David Graham would be welcome in the party.

Young Nationals WA president Darren Moir said the vote showed the traditionally conservative Nationals were evolving.

It signals a new era and a step forward to get rid of old prejudices and move forward, Moir told Perth’s Sunday Times newspaper.

It was a brave thing to bring this to the conference. We are not radicals -“ it was the right thing to do.

WA Nationals leader Brendon Grylls said the Nationals would take the same-sex civil unions policy to the next state election, due by 2009.

There is a perception that the National Party is a party of farmers and this couldn’t be further from the truth. This is a step along the journey to transform that perception.

But Grylls said he would not immediately be campaigning to introduce gay civil unions.

Gay and Lesbian Equality WA convenor Rod Swift said the level of the support for the motion was surprising, but the initiative was consistent with past state National Party policy.

There was only a very small fraction of the people in attendance who didn’t vote for this motion. We’re talking more than 80 percent support, Swift told the Star .

[But] we’ve got to remember that this is the same party that decided before the 2005 state election to break their coalition with the Liberal Party to not support the Liberal Party’s rollback position on gay law reform.

Swift and fellow activists are calling on WA’s Labor government to introduce a registration scheme for same-sex relationships.

This move by the Nationals to say they support the concept -¦ makes it easier for the Greens and Labor to do it, he said.

Swift said the civil unions motion also put pressure on Nationals in other states.

I’m hoping that it will spread to the federal party and other state divisions, he said.

A spokesperson for NSW Nationals leader Andrew Stoner said same-sex civil unions were not discussed at the party’s state conference in June but could be an interesting debate next year.

Maybe next year there will be such a motion and Andrew thinks that would certainly be an interesting debate, the spokesperson said.

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