Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd described himself as ‘the first Prime Minister of Australia to be a full signed up supporter of marriage equality,’ at a press conference today and challenged Opposition leader Tony Abbott to allow his MPs a free vote on the issue.
Rudd, who rolled marriage equality opponent Julia Gillard as leader of the Australian Labor Party on Wednesday said that the issue resonated with young voters and was an important reason why young people would vote for Labor along with its plan to roll out a fast speed broadband internet network across the country.
‘Wherever I go in Australia, young people think that our current arrangements are just wrong,’ Rudd said of marriage equality.
Rudd said that Australians deserved to have the issue settled, whoever won this year’s national elections.
‘Whoever wins the next election, let’s just have the civility to open this to a conscience vote for all,’ Rudd said.
However Rudd did not commit his party to a binding vote on the issue and there are some Labor MPs in the right wing of the party who would vote against the reform.
A previous vote on the issue failed when Abbott refused to let his MPs vote with their consciences.
Rudd said that a referendum could be used as a fallback option to settle the issue.
Australian advocates for marriage equality welcomed Rudd’s support but were cautious about the idea of a referendum on the issue.
‘We're pleased Mr Rudd has re-confirmed his support for marriage equality and we echo his calls on Tony Abbott to allow a Coalition conscience vote so Australia can catch up to our closest allies, including New Zealand, Britain, Canada and the US, by allowing same-sex couples to marry,’ Australian Marriage Equality national director Rodney Croome said.
‘But we strongly oppose Mr Rudd's fall-back option of a referendum because it would be expensive, divisive and because politicians are elected to make these kinds of decisions, not handball them back to the electorate.
‘We believe Australians want the parties to work together to achieve this reform so we have written to Mr Rudd asking him to initiate a cross-party working group to advance the issue, similar to the one that already exists in NSW.
‘Cross-party co-operation has been the key to achieving marriage equality in many other countries, including New Zealand the UK, and it will be the key in Australia.’