Australia territory appoints country's first openly gay leader

Australia territory appoints country's first openly gay leader
Andrew Barr, Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).

SYDNEY - An Australian politician Thursday became the country's first openly gay government leader after he was appointed chief minister of the Australian Capital Territory, saying he looked forward to the day he could legally marry his partner.

Andrew Barr, who took on the role after incumbent Katy Gallagher quit last week, added to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he would use his position to advocate for same-sex marriage.

"Anthony, I love you," Barr said to partner Anthony Toms in his acceptance speech to the ACT Legislative Assembly.

"I look forward to the day we can legally marry in this country."

Gay marriage was explicitly outlawed in Australia under a 2004 revision of the national Marriage Act by the conservative prime minister at the time, John Howard.

Same-sex couples can have civil unions or register their relationships in most states across Australia, but the government does not consider them married under national law.

The ACT, home to the nation's capital Canberra, was the first state or territory to allow gay marriage when it passed legislation last year, but the High Court later struck down the law and ruled that federal parliament must decide on same-sex unions.

"Canberra is Australia's most LGBTI-friendly city," Barr told the ABC, referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.

"We are inclusive and we strive to ensure that all of our citizens are treated equally and I look forward to the day when we can say that about our country."

A survey by Crosby Textor, the national pollster for the conservative ruling Liberal Party, earlier this year found that 72 per cent of Australians supported marriage equality, with about half of those strongly supporting it.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, whose sister Christine is gay, has been urged to allow a conscience vote on the issue.

But his government is opposed to gay marriage, and a vote on the issue in 2012 was defeated 98 to 42 after Abbott refused to allow his MPs, then in opposition, to break with party lines, rendering it a null prospect.

Barr's party Labor favours same-sex marriage.

There have been a handful of openly gay elected politicians in Australia, including former Greens leader Bob Brown, Labor senator Penny Wong and former Labor senator Louise Pratt, who was Australia's first parliamentarian with a transgender partner.

Australia continues to lag behind a growing number of countries on marriage reform, including neighbouring New Zealand, Britain, and some American states.

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