, SYDNEY, Nov 15 – Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Tuesday called for a conscience vote on gay marriage in parliament, but said she did not support changing the law to make same-sex marriage legal.
Gay marriage is banned under Australian law and opposed by both major political parties despite polls showing widespread public support for a change to allow couples the right to wed.
Gillard said the issue provoked lively debate and she wanted her Labor Party colleagues to have the opportunity to express their views on it.
But the nation’s first woman prime minister stressed she still supported the current law.
“As I have said many times, I support maintaining the Marriage Act in its current form, and the government will not move legislation to change it,” she wrote in an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald.
“My position flows from my strong conviction that the institution of marriage has come to have a particular meaning and standing in our culture and nation and that should continue unchanged.”
But Gillard, who is unmarried but lives with her partner Tim Mathieson, said she recognised the deeply held convictions in society about marriage.
“Given the personal nature of the issue and the deeply held beliefs, I believe that in future it is appropriate that a conscience vote flow to Labor parliamentarians,” she wrote.
“They should be free to vote in the parliament according to their own values and beliefs.”
A conscience vote on gay marriage, which would allow MPs to break with the party position, would likely fail to get a majority in parliament because Labor would be divided on the issue and the opposition would vote against it.
The Australian Marriage Equality group, which has been lobbying for same-sex marriage, said Gillard’s position was at odds with mainstream public opinion.
The latest Nielsen poll on the subject published in the Herald Tuesday found that 62 percent of voters supported legalising same-sex marriage — an increase of five percentage points compared with a year ago.
The poll of 1,400 people taken over the weekend also found that the number of people opposed to gay marriage had fallen over the year — from 37 percent to 31 percent.
Gay marriage is set to be a key issue at next month’s Labor Party conference, along with the push towards selling uranium to India.