The Dalai Lama has thrown his moral weight behind gay marriage, condemning homophobia and saying he was not bothered by consensual sex among people from other traditions.

In an interview released during his latest trip to the United States, the celibate Buddhist monk said gay marriage was up to each government and ultimately "individual business."

"If two people - a couple - really feel that way is more practical, more sort of satisfaction, both sides fully agree, then okay," the Dalai Lama told an online talk show by veteran radio and television host Larry King.

The Dalai Lama drew a distinction between public policy and individual morals, saying that people should still follow their own religions' rules on sexuality. "But then for a non-believer, that is up to them. So there are different forms of sex - so long (as it is) safe, okay, and (if both people) fully agree, okay," the Dalai Lama said.

"Bully, abuse - that's totally wrong. That's a violation of human rights," he said.

The Dalai Lama is Tibet's exiled spiritual leader and one of the most prominent leaders in Buddhism.
Gay marriage has won growing acceptance in the Western world and Latin America. No predominantly Buddhist nation allows gay marriage, although several nations with Buddhist influence including Nepal, Taiwan and Vietnam have increasingly debated the issue.

The Dalai Lama, who fled his Chinese-ruled homeland for India in 1959 and later won the Nobel Peace Prize, has prided himself on progressive positions and described himself as a feminist.

But his past comments on gay rights have occasionally bothered some of his Western audiences. In one of his books, the Dalai Lama, while not explicitly criticising homosexuality, said that sex should only involve "organs intended for sexual intercourse."

The Dalai Lama, who enjoys wide support in the United States, met yesterday with leaders of Congress. President Barack Obama welcomed him to the White House on February 21 in a meeting condemned by China, which opposes the monk's international activities.