leaders-debatePrime Minister Kevin Rudd made a significant commitment to marriage quality in last night’s leadership debate against Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, promising to put the issue to a vote in Parliament within the first 100 days if his government is re-elected in September.

“My commitment to you is that within the first 100 days of a re-elected government, a bill would come forth to legalise marriage equality. We would of course, on our side of politics, allow a full conscience vote, and I would just appeal to Mr Abbott to do the same, because folk out there want this to happen,” Rudd said.

The question about marriage equality came from moderator and Sky News political editor David Speers in the closing minutes of the debate leaving candidates limited time to respond, but Rudd took the opportunity to state his personal commitment to equality.

“I believe this is just a mark of decency to same-sex couples across the country who wish the same loving, caring relationship that for example I’ve had with Therese my wife now for the last 32 years, and for that to be formalised,” he said.

Abbott mentioned that his sister and marriage equality advocate Christine Forster was present in the audience, opening his remarks by saying it was “an important issue” but not the only one. He cited reducing the cost of living pressure and improving job security as bigger priorities for an incoming Coalition government.

On the issue of a conscience vote, Abbott avoided making a commitment either way:

“If this issue were to come up again in the future it would be a matter for a future party room.”

Rudd’s promise to put marriage equality to a vote in the first 100 days of a re-elected government has drawn praise from advocates.

“Mr Rudd’s plan for prioritising 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,” said Australian Marriage Equality national convener Rodney Croome, who even put a positive spin on Abbott’s response.

“Our hope that Tony Abbott will allow a conscience vote has been strengthened by his declaration during the debate that marriage equality is ‘a very important issue’ and the fact he pointedly didn’t defend the status quo or argue against the reform.”

Equal Love convener Ali Hogg also praised Rudd’s announcement, saying it was one her organisation had lobbied for specifically. Hogg was cautiously optimistic about whether this would translate into the actual delivery of marriage equality legislation.

“We’ve heard a lot of lip service from people in the ALP [Australian Labor Party] in the past, so I think it’s important that no matter what we keep up the pressure.”

Hogg said Equal Love would continue to lobby the ALP to support a full vote on marriage equality rather than a conscience vote, in keeping with the party’s stated national platform.

“It’s quite contradictory that the ALP have chosen to put this particular issue to a conscience vote when their party platform position is to support marriage equality…I think it’s a bit more sketchy if it comes down to the Liberal Party having a conscience vote. I think that it’s hard to say which way people will vote, but people have been working very hard on pressuring people on both sides.”

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