THE history of new NSW Labor leader Luke Foley in opposing same-sex marriage could have a fundamental effect on the party’s chances of winning the inner Sydney seat of Newtown at the upcoming state election, a Sydney academic has told the Star Observer.

However, Foley, who was elected unopposed to become opposition leader on Monday, appears to be softening his position on marriage equality ahead of the election in March.

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Recent comments have been far more measured than those in 2012 when he said he believed “homosexual relationships are different to a married relationship,” and that a “procreative relationship open to the possibility of children” was an “essential feature of marriage”.

While Foley has voted in favour of a number of pro-gay bills, including same-sex adoption, he has voted against measures in support of same-sex marriage.

This is despite it being official NSW Labor policy following its championing by shadow transport minister and Labor candidate for Newtown, Penny Sharpe.

According to the ABC the newly-created seat of Newtown, which stretches from Surry Hills to Petersham and takes in much of the eastern portion of the former seat of Marrickville, is notionally Green with a majority of 4.4 per cent over Labor.

Dr Stewart Jackson, a politics lecturer at the University of Sydney, told the Star Observer the fact it was a new seat with a high lesbian population meant the Labor’s leadership’s ongoing comments about same-sex marriage would be critical to the party’s chances in Newtown.

“The lesbian vote is an educated vote, it knows how the Labor party operates and if they are going to say you can have your gay and lesbian candidate but you’re not going to get what you want [in terms of marriage equality] they’ll react to that,” Jackson said.

“How Luke Foley plays out over the next three months will be really interesting.”

Independent state Sydney MP Alex Greenwich part of whose electorate will be ceded to Newtown, praised Sharpe: “Within Labor there’s probably no stronger or more effective supporter of reform.”

“I hope [Foley’s] position doesn’t harm her chances,” he added.

Greens candidate for Newtown Jenny Leong said there was a strong local preference for marriage equality: “This is not just an issue for the couples affected by same-sex marriage; it’s an issue for all progressive people in Newtown.”

Leong criticised Labor for giving MPs a conscience vote on same-sex marriage rather than insisting they all vote in favour.

“[The Greens] don’t have to compromise, people can vote for a party that has consistently supported marriage equality,” she said.

Earlier this week Foley said he now had an “open mind” on marriage equality and he didn’t believe his voting record would affect Labor’s chances in Newtown “because Penny Sharpe is from the LGBTI community and one of its strongest supporters in the NSW Parliament”.

“Penny is also a senior member of Labor who shares the values of those in Newtown and will bring those values to the centre of Labor in government,” he said.

Sharpe told the Star Observer Foley had significantly changed his position on marriage equality.

“An open mind means that he is willing to change his position,” she said.

She also said she would continue to put the case for same-sex marriage to her new party leader.

“I remain optimistic his view will change – as have many others in recent years.”

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