Australian Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd has backed down from plans for a referendum on same-sex marriage if he is returned to power – something that has been welcomed by campaigners for marriage equality in Australia.
Rudd made the comments during an interview with radio Triple J’s Hack program last night, saying he would not use a referendum to ram the issue down people’s throats.
Marriage equality advocates say there is now a consensus against a national poll among the major party leaders.
‘I believe that same-sex couples should be treated equally under the law and the civil institutions of the state – that they should be respected for the decisions that they make, whatever the gender of their partner might be,’ Rudd told Triple J.
‘In our parliamentary system on matters of this nature the longstanding tradition has been to offer people a conscience vote. We’ve done that. What I am disappointed about though is that the prospect of this passing the parliament is undermined by [Opposition leader Tony] Abbott refusing a conscience vote for the other side.’
Rudd said that if Liberal-National Coalition MPs were allowed a conscience vote ‘there would be a very strong prospect of this passing the House of Representatives and through the Senate as well,’ with bipartisan support.
When asked why he would not commit his party to a binding vote on the issue Rudd said, ‘you can’t force your views on other people who don’t share them on questions such as this.’
When he first declared his support for marriage equality, Rudd expressed interest in a referendum, but last night declared he would not would ‘ram’ the issue ‘down people's throats’ when it could be dealt with by the Australian Parliament.
Referendums in Australian law can only be used to change the constitution, which would not amend the Marriage Act so a referendum would not in itself create marriage equality in Australia.
Australian Marriage Equality national director Rodney Croome welcomed Rudd’s comments.
‘A referendum or a plebiscite on marriage equality would be unnecessary, divisive and would not directly reform the law,’ Croome said.
‘I am confident the Australian people would vote for marriage equality but I fear the debate leading up to that vote would be a platform for hate-mongering and damaging scare campaigns.’
Retiring independent MP Tony Windsor suggested the idea of a referendum on the issue earlier this year but that has been rejected by Greens party leader Christine Milne who’s party supports same-sex marriage and by Liberal-National Coalition leader Tony Abbott who opposes it.
A plebiscite to gauge the public’s views on the issue could also be held but that would not be legally binding or mandate any change to the Marriage Act.