Gay marriage bill is rejected by Australian parliament

File photo: Gay rights activists in Sydney 11 August 2012
Image caption Gay rights activists were disappointed with the outcome of the vote

Australian members of parliament have overwhelmingly rejected a bill that would have legalised gay marriages after days of heated debate.

The House of Representatives voted 98 to 42 against the bill, with one MP resigning a key post after making controversial comments against it.

Australia does not permit gay marriage, though some states allow civil unions.

Gay rights activists called the decision a "slap on the face," ABC News reported.

The majority Labor MPs were allowed to vote on the bill based on their beliefs rather than on party lines, while the opposition voted against it.

Both Prime Minister Julia Gillard and opposition leader Tony Abbot voted against the bill.

Labor MP Anthony Albanese, who voted for the bill, remained optimistic despite its defeat.

"I think at some future time our parliament will catch up with community opinion, just as it has on other issues," he said.

"When marriage equality occurs, people will wonder what the fuss was about."

The debate on the bill saw the resignation of Liberal MP Cory Bernardi from his parliamentary secretary post after linking gay marriage to bestiality.

He had also questioned whether the passage of the bill would lead to broader definitions of who could legally get married.

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