The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) has rejected a request by beyondblue chairman Jeff Kennett to speak at its conference next month.

Last week, ACL managing director Jim Wallace faced a public backlash when he compared the health effects of smoking with same-sex marriage.

The incident prompted Prime Minister Julia Gillard to cancel her planned appearance at the ACL’s national conference in October as its keynote speaker.

Kennett then made an offer to speak at the conference in Gillard’s place.

He said he was not surprised the group declined his offer to speak.

“It’s really disappointing that the ACL has declined my offer to speak at their conference,” Kennett said in a statement.

“I would have thought they would have been keen to hear a different point of view, one, which I believe, is held by the majority of Australians – and that is, that discrimination is simply unacceptable.

“It is hard to believe that people who call themselves Christians would support an approach that so overtly causes harm to so many people.”

Last week, beyondblue launched a $1.5 million national anti-discrimination and stigma-reduction campaign which includes cinema ads, TV, print and outdoor ads, and personal video stories from LGBTI people who have experienced depression and anxiety as a result of discrimination.

The organisation’s research shows that discrimination is a major contributing factor to depression and anxiety, and risk of suicide. LGBTI people in particular face widespread discrimination which contributes to much higher rates of anxiety and depression than the general population.

“I urge Jim Wallace and the ACL to reconsider their position. Stop the discrimination, think about how comments you make could cause real distress and harm, and respect people who are different from you,” Kennett said.

Wallace maintains his comments about the health risks of being gay had been misrepresented.
“What I did say is that heterosexual sex and homosexual sex are different and have different health consequences,” he said.

“They should not be packaged the same way as marriage because, as just one of many reasons, they are different.”

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