As opinion polls in Australia indicate a clear victory for the Labour party in next month’s general election, their leader has come under attack from gay activists and the Green party for rejecting same-sex marriage.
Yesterday during a radio interview Kevin Rudd stood by his party line that marriage is between a man and woman, but admitted it was not a popular view in some circles.
He faced immediate anger from a station employee who said he was making gay and lesbian Australians second-class citizens and a leading Senator from the Greens said his stance was plain wrong.
Other commentators pointed out that a generation ago interracial marriages were frowned upon and in time he could be viewed as having similar prejudices.
Labour are leading the incumbent Liberal party by as much as 16% in some polls, making it very likely that John Howard, Prime Minister since 1996, will finally lose power.
Mr Rudd is therefore likely to be Australia’s leader after the federal general election on November 24th.
Gay rights activist Rodney Croome of the Australian Coalition for Equality welcomed the Labour party’s commitment to tackle some of the inequalities gay and lesbian Australians face in healthcare, tax and pensions.
Earlier this year the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission reported that there are as many as 58 federal laws which fail to tally and deny LGB families the rights that heterosexual families take for granted.
“Labour’s current policy will address some of the deep disadvantage and discrimination which currently exists in Australian law,” Mr Croome said, according to The Age.
“But even if Labour fulfils all of its promises it will still not be possible for same-sex partners to publicly and officially declare their love for each other in front of their family and friends, as they can in Canada, Britain, New Zealand and many other Western countries.
“Labour is effectively saying same-sex couples can get on the bus, but we still have to sit at the back.”
Mr Rudd has also been challenged by reporters over gay adoptions.
He repeatedly insisted that it was a matter for the states and not the federal government, before conceding that he only approves of gay people adopting in “unusual” circumstances.
Green party Senator Bob Brown was not impressed.
“Kevin, you’re wrong,” he told reporters in the federal capital Canberra, according to the Hobart Mercury.
“Gay and lesbian people should be treated the same as heterosexual people under the law.
“When people form a relationship, they love each other, they get together, they share their lives, then the law should not be an impediment and they shouldn’t discriminate.
“That means removing the discrimination that Labour and the (present government) have on marriage laws against this section of the community who happen to have same-sex relationships.”
Liberal leader John Howard has been Prime Minister for eleven years and is seeking a fifth term in office.
The 68-year-old is a despised by many in Australia’s LGBT community.
In 2004 he passed federal legislation banning same-sex marriage and earlier this year said that HIV positive immigrants should not be allowed into the country.
He is widely expected to lose power to 50-year-old Mr Rudd and may even lose his own parliamentary seat.
His Cabinet colleague Malcolm Turnbull is also fighting for his political life in the Sydney seat of Wentworth, which has a large gay population.
He won the seat with a majority of just 2.5% of the vote in the last election.
The Australian Federal Police are reportedly investigating dirty tricks in the constituency.
A flyer has been distributed which implied it was from Christian sect the Exclusive Brethren, and that they were campaigning against the Labour candidate, George Newhouse.
It was not signed, contrary to election law.
The leaflet, entitled “Keep Australia Christian,” urged voters to support the Liberals against the pro-gay policies of Labour and the Greens.
A senior elder of the sect said “It’s pretty clear to us that there’s a campaign trying to discredit the Exclusive Brethren.”