Rudd makes gay marriage poll issue

AFP-JIJI

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Monday it is time to end the “acrimonious” debate on gay marriage, after he vowed to introduce a bill legalizing same-sex unions if returned to office.

If re-elected Sept. 7, Rudd said his Labor Party would introduce a bill within 100 days, becoming the first Australian leader to promise to support marriage equality.

“Frankly, in 2013, I think the time has come to put this acrimonious debate behind us,” Rudd, who had previously been against gay marriage, told reporters Monday.

Rudd, who is trailing conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott in opinion polls, said millions of Australians have long waited to see the reform become law.

Although his ruling Labor Party formally changed its position on the issue in December 2011 to a pro-gay marriage stance, Rudd and his predecessor, Julia Gillard, have both historically been against the reform.

A conscience vote last September was defeated 98 votes to 42 after Abbott refused to allow opposition MPs to break with party lines, rendering it a null prospect.

Gay rights group Australian Marriage Equality (AME) welcomed Rudd’s commitment but said it meant nothing unless Abbott also agreed to a vote.

“Kevin Rudd can’t achieve this reform by himself. He needs the coalition to also have a conscience vote if this reform is to have a fighting chance,” AME chief Rodney Croome said.