Vocal supporters of marriage equality Anthony Albanese and Penny Wong replace Wayne Swan and Stephen Conroy, who both voted against marriage equality last year as Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Government in the Senate respectively. They join Rudd, whose change of heart in support of marriage equality in May put him at odds with former Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
Other marriage equality opponents who resigned from the cabinet include former Trade Minister Craig Emerson. However, three new opponents are in: Treasurer Chris Bowen, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Joel Fitzgibbon, and Minister for Mental Health and Ageing Jacinta Collins.
Collins has been a controversial appointment, and critics of her position overseeing mental health have pointed out the links between discrimination against LGBTI people and mental illness, including high rates of suicide.
During the Senate debate around last year’s marriage equality bill, Collins argued that “stable, biological parenting” should be encouraged through heterosexual-only marriage. The new Minister is also staunchly anti-abortion, and received the conservative Christian Values Institute’s highest award in 2011.
There appear to be no moves by the Government to enforce the Australian Labor Party’s national platform in support of marriage equality, in place since 2011.
However, in a media conference last Friday Rudd encouraged Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to follow Labor’s lead and allow Coalition members a conscience vote on the issue. Rudd said he would consider a referendum or plebiscite on marriage equality if the opposition did not allow a conscience vote.
The move has garnered criticism from marriage equality advocates including Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s out sister Christine Forster, who said the debate should occur around legislation within parliament.
Director of Australian Marriage Equality Rodney Croome echoed Forster’s concerns that a public debate on the issue would be divisive, providing a platform for anti-gay rhetoric from opponents of marriage equality.
“It could potentially be deeply polarising, becoming a platform for fear-mongering against the gay and lesbian community, and we think that our politicians are elected to make these kinds of decisions, rather than hand-balling them back to the voters,” Croome told the ABC.
“It could be quite destructive… particularly for young, same-sex attracted people coming to terms with their sexuality.”
After voting against marriage equality last year in the House of Representatives, Rudd announced in May he had changed his mind after a “difficult personal journey”.