By HELEN TUNNAH deputy political editor

Peter Dunne will campaign against the Government's plans to legalise same-sex unions knowing his United Future Party is likely to be attacked as strict, conservative Christians.

Mr Dunne said he was not opposing the Civil Union Bill on religious or moral grounds.

He was against the proposed alternative to marriage for both heterosexual and same-sex couples because civil unions were not necessary, and sanctioning people's lifestyles was not the state's business.

Although former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was liberalising gay laws when he said it, Mr Dunne said his remark that "the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation" reflected his (Mr Dunne's) own view.

He believed it dishonest to suggest the intent behind civil unions was anything other than offering same-sex couples a form of marriage.

United Future's eight MPs will all vote against the Civil Union Bill on Thursday, although some may support an accompanying bill that amends scores of laws to give legal recognition to both same-sex and de facto relationships.

United Future has been the most outspoken party against civil unions and

most of its MPs have strong links with its Christian arm.

Mr Dunne said his opposition did not stem from religion, but he expected his party would be painted as having fundamental Christian beliefs which did not happily recognise same-sex relationships.

"There will be inevitably those who will paint it that way," he told the Herald.

"I have attempted in my comments to steer well clear of that."

"I voted for the Homosexual Law Reform Bill in 1985-86 and I would do so again without hesitation. This is just something that's not necessary."

Mr Dunne said many of the concerns of both heterosexual, de facto and same-sex couples regarding human rights could be corrected with the second bill, the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill, without creating an institution parallel to marriage.

He said heterosexual couples in de facto relationships could get legal recognition now if they wanted, through marriage, but had chosen to enter a relationship where they did not get the sanction of the state.

"The one group who will stand to make most use of civil unions will be same-sex couples. You've got something set up that's parallel marriage in every form.

"It [the bill] is in our view fundamentally dishonest in that it purports to be something that it's not.

"It's a bit like - if it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, chances are it is a duck."

The two bills will be debated for the first time on Thursday.

The marriage state

* In 2001, 336,591 people said they were in a relationship outside marriage.

* Three in 10 people between 15 and 44 were in de facto relationships.

* In the 2001 census, 10,134 people said they were in a same-sex relationship.

* Last year, there were 21,420 marriages, compared with 20,690 a year earlier.

* About one-third of the marriages involved a partner who had been married before.

* 10,491 marriages were dissolved last year, slightly more than in 2002.