Australia's conservative government is banning same-sex marriages and wants to change immigration rules to prevent gays and lesbians from adopting foreign children. Prime Minister John Howard, who is struggling in opinion polls with an election expected later this year, announced changes to the country's marriage law on Thursday.
The amendments are all but certain to be enacted by parliament after the opposition Labor Party declared its support.
Australia's federal government is responsible for laws on marriage and immigration. But the country's six states regulate adoption. And some could object to Howard's attempts to block gays and lesbians from adopting, although the Labor opposition said it has yet to make up its mind on the issue.
In a concession to gays and lesbians, however, the government has also announced that same-sex partners will be recognized for the first time by federal authorities as dependents. This means a gay man or lesbian will be able to get a partner's state-funded pension paid out after his or her partner dies. Previously only married and common-law partners and children had this right.
Howard scoffed when asked if the gay marriage changes were designed to split the Labor Party, whose leader, Mark Latham, also has said he opposes gay unions. "I believe in this," Howard told reporters. The changes "wouldn't be coming forward if I didn't believe very strongly in both of them."
In the past Howard has said he believes marriage is for procreation.
Howard is a staunch ally and admirer of U.S. president George W. Bush, who also wants same-sex marriages banned.