NSW opposition leader Luke Foley, who has consistently voted against measures in support of marriage equality, has today announced he is now in favour of same-sex marriage.

However, a rival party has suggested Foley’s road to Darlinghurst conversion may have more to do with building support in inner-city electorates ahead of next month’s state election.

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Talking to Fairfax Media, Foley said he had “come somewhat late to the table on this” and it hadn’t been a “black and white issue” for him.

“For me it’s been far more complex. I grew up with a very traditional view of marriage,” he said.

“That it was between a man and a woman.

“But I also believe in equality. My whole political involvement has been about promoting equality.”

In November 2013, Foley voted against a NSW upper house bill on the legalisation of same-sex marriage which failed by just two votes.

Speaking in the upper house in 2012, Foley said that a “procreative relationship open to the possibility of children” was an “essential feature of marriage”.

He said that he instead favoured civil partnerships for gay couples.

However, since taking on NSW Labor’s top job in January, Foley said he had spoken to marriage equality advocates who had convinced him that civil unions were not equal to marriage.

“I’m now at a point where I’m willing to give my support to a change to the law, to the [federal] Marriage Act, so as to provide for same-sex marriage,” he said.

Foley’s announcement echoes Kevin Rudd’s change of mind on the same issue.

In May 2013, four months before a federal election, the former prime minister said he had been persuaded to back same-sex marriage by a gay staff member.

NSW goes to the polls at the end of next month with a particularly tight battle expected between Labor’s Penny Sharpe and the Greens in the LGBTI-centric seat of Newtown.

Dr Stewart Jackson, a politics lecturer at the University of Sydney, told the Star Observer that Foley’s support for same-sex marriage now took an issue off the table that could have harmed Labor’s chances in the inner-west seat.

“It’s a very positive move for Penny Sharpe as now people can vote for her both because of who she is and where the party stands,” Jackson said.

However, he said Foley now had to follow through on his new commitment to marriage equality or voters would become cynical.

Newtown’s Greens candidate Jenny Leong said Labor was reducing marriage equality to an election ploy: “I can understand that to many this would seem more like cynical political positioning rather than a real change of heart.”

Leong added that Foley was “outsourcing his responsibilities to Canberra” and criticised Labor’s approach to equality.

“Ending discrimination isn’t about a personal ‘pick and choose,” she said.

“It’s not enough to say you are committed to equality – it’s about the actions you take to end discrimination in all forms.”

Australian Marriage Equality national director Rodney Croome congratulated Foley for his decision and the “reflective, consultative path” he took to reach it.

“His evolution on marriage equality will encourage other MPs to do the same and provides a positive example for community members still conflicted by the reform,” he said.

“If, as a Catholic, Luke Foley can evolve on marriage equality then so can Tony Abbott by allowing a free vote for all Coalition MPs.

“If, as a boy from Sydney’s western suburbs, Luke Foley can evolve on marriage equality then so can other western suburbs Labor MPs who have previously voted against it like Chris Bowen, Ed Husic and Julie Owens.”

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