Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s ruling Labor party supported her plan to allow lawmakers to vote personally on whether to support gay marriage, securing a political victory after months of slumping ratings.
Delegates attending the party’s conference in Sydney today backed the proposal by Gillard, who opposes same-sex marriage, to hold a conscience vote. In a separate vote, the Labor party approved changing its official policy to support gay marriage.
“This is a deeply personal debate,” Gillard told delegates. Many people “have been driven by religious and philosophical views across the span of their lifetime, holding those views very deeply and sincerely.”
The move is a boost to Gillard, Australia’s first female prime minister, who overtook opposition leader Tony Abbott as the nation’s preferred leader for the first time in six months in an opinion poll last month. Kevin Rudd, whom Gillard replaced as leader as leader in a late-night party coup in June 2010, said Nov. 27 that Labor risks becoming a minority third party unless it adopts organizational change at the conference.
“It’s an issue which tends to be divisive,” said Michael McKinley, a lecturer in international relations at the Australian National University in Canberra. “Gillard might attract some support from those people who think she has at least put it to a vote.”
Greens lawmaker Adam Bandt said today he will move amendments to the Marriage Act in the House of Representatives as soon as Parliament resumes, following the conference’s decision to back a conscience vote on marriage equality. The Greens hold the balance of power in the upper-house Senate.
The 184 delegates who opposed Gillard’s motion at the conference were defeated by 208 supporters, according to the televised results. The motion was seconded by Stephen Smith, Australia’s defense minister.
The issue split her party and spurred entertainer Elton John to say at a Dec. 1 event in Sydney: “It’s about time Australians got same-sex marriage together.”
Countries including Spain, Argentina, Canada, South Africa and Sweden, allow same-sex couples to marry, while others such as the U.K. and some U.S. and Australian states allow civil unions and registered partnerships.
The push within Labor to legalize gay marriage is being led by gay Finance Minister Penny Wong, who announced in August her long-term partner was expected to give birth this month through in vitro fertilization.
A motion proposed by Wong and Andrew Barr, deputy chief minister of the Australian Capital Territory, for the Labor party to change its policy, or so-called party platform, to support gay marriage was passed by delegates on a vote by voices. While that leaves Gillard’s personal opposition to such unions at odds with her party’s official stance, it means the party’s lawmakers won’t be forced to vote the proposal into law.
“It is this Labor government that removed discrimination against same-sex couples in more than 80 areas of the law,” Wong told delegates. “It is time to fully reflect this heritage and these values in our platform.”
About 62 percent of Australians support same-sex marriage, lobby group Australian Marriage Equality says, citing Galaxy Research polling conducted 2009-11. The opposition Liberal-National coalition opposes gay marriage.
Gillard’s support rose to 40 percent from 39 percent two weeks earlier, her highest level since July, according to a Newspoll survey of 1,143 people conducted Nov. 18-20. Support for Abbott as preferred leader slipped 5 points to 35 percent, his lowest standing in nine months, according to the poll published by the Australian newspaper.
Labor trailed the Liberal-National coalition, with support falling two points from a seven-month high to 30 percent, according to the Newspoll.
The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Support for the opposition rose 4 points to 48 percent, it said.