Lesbian minister's pregnancy fails to sway Australia PM on gay marriage

Australia's finance minister announced yesterday that she is expecting a child with her female partner, but although Prime Minister Julia Gillard offered her warmest congratulations, she refused to budge in her opposition to gay marriage.

Penny Wong's partner, Sophie Allouache, conceived through IVF using donor sperm and is expecting in December. The news has reignited debate over same-sex partnership in the country.

There are increasing calls for Ms Gillard's centre-left Labor Party to lift its ban on gay marriages at their conference in December, but while the Premier said she was "very pleased" for Ms Wong, 42, and Ms Allouache, 35, she stood firm in her view that wedlock should be reserved for a man and a woman.

"Clearly there are strong views about same-sex marriage in the community," Ms Gillard said. "There are strong views in the political party I lead, and we'll have a debate at national conference about those strongly held views. I've made my views clear."

Ahead of the Labor Party conference, Ms Wong – the only openly-gay member of Ms Gillard's cabinet – has supported changing the party's stance, but she stressed yesterday that she did not want her unborn child to become part of the argument.

"You have a child because you want a family and you want to have the opportunity of raising a child together. You don't have a child to make a political statement," she told The Sydney Morning Herald. "I don't want to engage in the policy debate about these issues in the context of something that is so deeply personal and so lovely. Children need to be loved, nurtured and respected, and our child will be."

Although there is a strong socially-conservative element in the Australian electorate, particularly in rural areas, Ms Gillard is looking increasingly out of step on the issue. At the weekend, Tasmania became the seventh of Australia's eight states where the Labor Party has passed a motion supporting gay marriage. There is also increasing public support for gay marriage, which has recently been legalised in six US states. Various polls in Australia have put support for gay marriage as high as 70 per cent.

There were congratulations from across the political spectrum yesterday for Ms Wong and her partner, while Peter Furness, of the Australian Marriage Equality group, used the opportunity to highlight the importance of marriage. "Marriage can benefit children by providing them with a greater sense of security and recognition," he told The Age newspaper.

But there are still some right-wing figures determined to make themselves heard. "She needn't have made it public," said Fred Nile, an MP from New South Wales and leader of the Christian Democrat Party. "It just promotes their lesbian lifestyle and trying to make it natural where it's unnatural."

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