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Australia's ruling party endorses gay marriage


Australia's ruling party endorses gay marriage

SYDNEY (AP) Australia's ruling party voted Saturday to endorse same-sex marriage, a reversal of its long-standing position that has little practical effect on the chance of gay marriage being legalized in the country.

The impact of the vote at the center-left Labor Party's annual conference was diluted by the party's endorsement of a motion by Prime Minister Julia Gillard to allow lawmakers to make a "conscience vote" on bills attempting to legalize gay marriage. That means legislators can vote on the issue according to their personal beliefs rather than being forced to vote in line with the party's official position.

Gillard's government holds a wafer-thin majority in Parliament over the conservative Liberal Party which opposes same-sex marriage and several Labor members personally oppose gay marriage. So any bill proposing to legalize gay marriage will still face a tough battle.

Recent polls show a majority of Australians favor allowing same-sex marriage, and several Australian states already permit civil unions between gay couples. But Gillard opposes any changes to Australia's Marriage Act, which prohibits same-sex marriage.

She called the party's support of the conscience vote "the right decision," but brushed off questions about its endorsement of the policy change.

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