The Australian Labor Party [party website] Saturday officially amended its platform to support same-sex marriage. The ruling party's decision to support same-sex marriage [BBC report] followed emotional debate and speeches from both sides of the issue at its national conference in Sydney, where 400 delegates voted to amend the party's platform while accepting Prime Minister Julia Gillard's call for the party to accept a conscience vote on the issue. Gillard, who is personally opposed to same-sex marriage, has said her government will not seek to change Australia's Marriage Act 1961 [text], which defines the union as between a man and and a woman, and has called on Australia's Parliament [JURIST report] to vote on whether or not to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. Such a measure will likely fail in parliament, given that the Labor Party has a thin majority and the conservative opposition party does not support same-sex marriage. The platform amendment came days after the Queensland Parliament [official website] passed legislation to legally recognize civil unions between same-sex couples, joining its fellow states of Tasmania, New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) [JURIST reports] in recognizing civil unions. Gillard's proposal was accepted by a vote of 208 to 184, and the vote to amend the party platform was accepted on voices.
Australia historically has had a tumultuous past regarding the legal rights of same-sex couples. In May 2008, the Australian government abandoned a proposal [JURIST report] to legally recognize same-sex civil union ceremonies after the Australian federal government threatened to veto Civil Partnerships Bill 2006 [legislative materials] if it passed the Legislative Assembly [official website]. The Civil Partnerships Bill was introduced after an earlier civil unions law [legislative materials] was actually overturned by the federal government [JURIST report] because that law's attempt to equate civil unions with marriage was determined to be unacceptable. In April of 2008, the Australian government introduced legislation to amend over 100 federal laws [JURIST report] to remove discrimination against same-sex couples but continued to bar same-sex marriage. While mandated by federal legislation as unrecognized, currently same-sex couples do have equal rights with heterosexual couples in areas such as pension schemes and medical benefits.