MADRID – A prominent gay Australian politician married his longtime partner Wednesday in southern Spain, two months after his country voted down a proposal to enact same-sex marriage legislation.
Ian Hunter, the social inclusion minister for the state of South Australia, said he was disappointed that his marriage to artist Leith Semmens won't be legal in Australia, but said the two decided they couldn't wait for their country to approve a gay marriage law.
"Without a doubt it's inevitable in Australia, but you're looking at six or seven years, and me and my partner weren't willing to wait that long," Hunter said a few hours before he and Semmens were married at an art gallery in the town of Jun.
Mayor Jose Antonio Rodriguez officiated at the ceremony attended by more than a dozen friends and relatives. In accordance with a local tradition, the couple kissed for 17 seconds, which were counted out loud by the guests.
Hunter, 52, is believed to be the first sitting member of an Australian legislative body to marry a gay partner.
The former scientist has long been a vocal advocate for gay rights, and a lawmaker in the ruling Labor Party in the South Australian state legislature since 2006. He became a state Cabinet minister last year.
The party's annual national conference in December 2011 reversed its opposition to gay marriage, but Prime Minister Julia Gillard remains opposed.
Legislation that would have recognized same-sex marriages was defeated in the House of Representatives in September in a 98-48 vote. While Gillard allows Labor lawmakers to vote however they choose on gay marriage legislation, opposition leader Tony Abbott, a staunch Roman Catholic, insists lawmakers in his conservative Liberal Party reject it.
Opinion polls consistently show that most Australians support same-sex marriage. There are other same-sex marriage bills before the Australian Parliament which have yet to be voted on. Hunter thinks it will take years for Australian lawmakers who have staked out positions against gay marriage to change them, and for the election of new and younger parliament members supportive of gay marriage.
Hunter said he and Semmens married for love and commitment and not to push the gay marriage issue forward in Australia, but predicted their marriage "will of course have some impact on a political level in Australia."
Spain enacted its gay marriage law in 2005. The country's top court approved it in an 8-3 vote in November, rejecting an appeal contending marriage in Spain's constitution means only the union of a man and a woman
Rod McGuirk reported from Canberra, Australia.