- (Gregg Page/Bible Society Australia Inc)
Kevin Rudd, the 26th prime minister of Australia, who assumed office on June 27, may face backlash from Christian voters after he declared his support for same-sex marriage, observers have said.
"I think there's always a potential for people to be rather dismayed when a person has a particular view that's keeping with the timeless wisdom and understanding of an important social institution of marriage and then all of a sudden walks away from it," said Chris Meney, director of the Catholic Church's Life, Marriage and Family Centre in Sydney, according to News.com.au.
Rudd, a practicing Anglican, became the first ever Australian PM to support same-sex marriage after he took over as leader of the Labor Party from Julia Gillard – an atheist who was not in favor of the practice.
"Wherever I go in Australia, it just hits you in the face what young people think about this, which is that our current arrangements are just wrong and offensive to people," Rudd said, explaining his stance.
The PM argued that adhering to a literal rendition of the Bible would make the 21st century "a deeply troubling place" and claimed that "the list of legitimized social oppressions would be disturbingly long."
This marks a change from his previous term as PM, between 2007 and 2010, when he opposed gay marriage. Australia currently does not recognize same-sex marriages, but same-sex civil unions are accepted and gay couples have the same rights as heterosexual couples under state law.
Meney said that this change will likely be on the minds of voters when they are casting their ballots come election time. Christianity remains the dominant religion in Australia. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that in 2011, 61.1 percent of the population claimed they were Christians, mostly Roman Catholics and Anglicans, denominations which officially support traditional marriage.
"If Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is going to change the way that he wants to sell this particular issue to the Australian people, well, there's an election coming up and he's free to propose that to the voting population," the director of the Catholic Church's Life suggested.
Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director Lyle Shelton, whose group represents evangelical and Pentecostal churches, noted that Rudd had gained the support of many Christians in the country during the 2007 election.
"There would be many people in the Christian constituency who would have seen Kevin Rudd for many years holding press conferences outside church, defending marriage, then suddenly change his mind because of the whims of pop culture," Shelton said.
"Christian people are by and large people who believe in principle and hold that very highly."
Some gay rights supporters in Australia have said that Rudd is backing same-sex marriage as a political move to appeal to young people, and have questioned whether he is genuine about the issue.
"But he's an opportunist, because actually if he was genuine, he would pass a bill," Rachel Evans said at a rally organized by Community Action Against Homophobia, according to AAP.