May 20, 2013
By Jacob Combs
Kevin Rudd, an Australian Labour party politician who led the country as prime minister from 2007 to 2010 announced his personal support for equal marriage rights today in a lengthly post published on his personal blog. The post, titled “Church and State are able to have different positions on same sex marriage,” represents a pronounced shift in Rudd’s policy position on marriage equality.
In 2009, Rudd’s Labour government rejected a proposal to allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions, arguing that such a move would be tantamount to offering full marriage equality and inconsistent with the public’s view that marriage should be for opposite-sex couples only. Last September, Rudd voted against a marriage equality bill introduced by a member of his own party.
Debate on equal marriage rights for same-sex couples has raged in Australia since late 2011, when the Australian Labor Party (of which Rudd is a member) voted to amend its platform in support of marriage equality. Australia’s current Labour Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, is a personal opponent of equal marriage rights, and pushed after the platform change to allow marriage equality legislation to come up for a conscience vote, in which lawmakers could vote based on their personal beliefs rather than the party position. Last fall, a federal marriage bill failed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, largely on the votes of Gillard’s supporters.
In his blog post, Rudd made clear that he does not plan to take any leadership position on marriage equality going forward. “My core interest,” he wrote, “is to be clear-cut about the change in my position locally on this highly controversial issue before the next election, so that my constituents are fully aware of my position when they next visit the ballot box. That, I believe, is the right thing to do.
Below is an excerpt from Rudd’s post, which can be read in full here:
“I have come to the conclusion that church and state can have different positions and practices on the question of same sex marriage. I believe the secular Australian state should be able to recognise same sex marriage. I also believe that this change should legally exempt religious institutions from any requirement to change their historic position and practice that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman. For me, this change in position has come about as a result of a lot of reflection, over a long period of time, including conversations with good people grappling with deep questions of life, sexuality and faith.
“The Church must be free to perform marriages for Christian heterosexual couples without any threat of interference from the state. Just as the state should be free to perform marriage services for both heterosexual and same sex couples, and whether these couples are of a religious faith or no religious faith.
These issues properly remain matters of conscience for all members of the Parliament. Labor provides a conscience vote. The Liberals and the Nationals do not. They should. If they don’t, then we should consider a national referendum at an appropriate time, and which would also have the added advantage of bringing the Australian community along with us on an important social reform for the nation. And for the guys and girls, like the former staffer who came to see me recently in a state of genuine distress, we may just be able to provide a more dignified and non-discriminatory future for all.”