Gay marriage surprise issue in Aus

2010-08-20 09:18

Sydney - Gay marriage has popped up as the surprise question in the Australian election campaign, with Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her right-leaning opponent Tony Abbott repeatedly challenged on the issue.

Gillard, an unmarried atheist who lives with her partner, and staunch Catholic family man Abbott both say that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

On Friday, Labour leader Gillard told The Australian newspaper she rejected same-sex weddings because "the marriage act has a special status in our culture", adding that she appreciated "our heritage as a Christian country".

Abbott also faced questioning, with one voter asking him when he would "overcome your fear and ignorance of gay people and give them the dignity and respect that you'd happily give to all other Australians".

The former trainee priest said that while he did not support same-sex marriage, he hoped he would "always find it in my heart to treat people the way everyone should be treated - with dignity and respect".

Civil unions, which provide the same legal rights as marriage, are available in some parts of Australia but the country which boasts one of the largest gay and lesbian Mardi Gras parades in the world does not allow same-sex marriage.

"For those couples who wish to marry, they are not a substitute," campaigner Rodney Croome said of the civil partnerships.

Croome said Australians who supported gay marriage were becoming increasingly frustrated by politicians' attitudes, particularly as other countries, such as Spain and Portugal, had made them legal.

"There's no inconsistency between the Mardi Gras and public attitudes, where the inconsistency lies is between public attitudes and the attitudes of our political leaders," he said.