CANBERRA, Australia — Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, leader of the ruling Labor party, committed Sunday to introduce marriage equality legislation within 100 days if re-elected, becoming the first Australian leader to promise support for same-sex marriage.
“I support marriage equality,” Rudd said, during a televised debate against Conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott. “I believe this is a mark of decency to same-sex couples across the country and for that to be formalized.”
Rudd urged Abbott, who has previously opposed introducing marriage equality legislation, to support the move.
“We will allow a full conscience vote. I would appeal to Mr. Abbott to do the same,” said Rudd.
Abbot acknowledged that marriage equality is “a very important issue,” but qualified his statement saying, “it’s not the only important issue.”
Rodney Croome, head of the advocacy group Australian Marriage Equality, welcomed the announcent, but cautioned, “Mr. Rudd’s plan for prioritizing marriage equality in the first 100 days of a Labor Government is an important step forward, but he can’t achieve this reform himself, putting the onus back on Tony Abbott to allow a conscience vote.”
“This evening’s debate shows how far Australia has come since 2010 when both leaders openly defended the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage,” said Croome. “For both current leaders it is not so much a matter of if, as when.”
Following a Labor party leadership ballot on June 27, Rudd replaced former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who opposed marriage equality.
Despite neighboring New Zealand legalizing same-sex marriage earlier this year, Gillard opposed any such move in Australia.
Abbott has previously stated that he would object to a conscience vote on the matter.