The federal Young Nationals have voted to support civil unions for same-sex couples, prompting the Queensland Young Nationals to threaten a split in the party.

The majority support for the proposition came as a surprise for many delegates at the group’s annual conference on the weekend, including gay Young Nationals member and former Big Brother star David Graham.

I had intended to give a speech to try to swing voters, but as everyone else spoke it was quite clear there was already a clear majority [in favour of civil unions] among the delegates, Graham, who was elected federal membership officer at the conference, told Sydney Star Observer.

Graham, a Queensland farmer, had lobbied to get the topic on the conference agenda along with the Western Australian Young Nationals, who announced their support for civil unions two months ago.

Debate on the issue had to be extended to allow delegates time to speak.

Those in favour spoke of removing discrimination for same-sex couples and families, while a number of Christians spoke about the importance of human rights, Graham said.

Those against the motion said homosexuality was a choice and there was no link between it and depression and suicide.

I said, from my experience, yes, there is, Graham said. I talked about the reality of it. I wanted to make it very clear it is a real issue.

He said he had hoped to get into the minds of the Neanderthal element of the party with his speech.

I said to them, -˜You’re a dairy farmer, you know very well dairy cows root each other. That is a natural phenomenon you allow on your farm. Humans are also animals and we’re no different. We’ve all had dogs that have been exclusively gay or lesbian and we’re all fine with that’.

The National Party is considered one of the country’s more conservative parties, with strong views on family values and some vocal anti-gay MPs. However, the Young Nationals, made up of people under the age of 30, have been known to discuss issues the main party won’t touch.

Comment was sought from federal Nationals leader Mark Vaile and NSW leader Andrew Stoner, but neither returned the Star‘s calls.

One chapter of the Young Nationals who didn’t agree with the decision was Queensland. President of the group, Damien Tessman, threatened to do a Joh and split the party over the issue.

He was referring to former Nationals leader, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, who split the party in 1987 when he ran for prime minister.

Homosexuality is something that should not be normalised or promoted in any way, Tessman told Brisbane’s Sunday Mail.

It is an attack on the sanctity of marriage and it erodes the maintenance of the family unit.

All the work Joh did for this party is coming under threat.

Damian Callacher, president of the federal Young Nationals, urged the Queensland chapter not to walk away.

I’d certainly encourage them to have a spirited debate, as the federal party did, and work out the best way forward for them, Callacher told the Star.

It would be disappointing for the federal organisation if the Young Nationals in Queensland decided to withdraw.

He said apart from the Queensland group he had not received much negative feedback over the decision. Most people sort of see it as a practical resolution, he said.

Conference delegates also voted to support reinforcing marriage as a party platform and ensuring Christian values were taught in Queensland schools.

We support marriage being for a man and a woman and we support civil unions being for same-sex couples. Effectively we keep everyone happy, Graham, who had been a member of the Nationals for 11 years, said.

He believed it was a matter of time before the main party supported civil unions as well.

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