Kevin Rudd only has himself to blame for same-sex marriage and adoption tripping up his slick election campaign.
When 2Day FM hosts asked Rudd to give his view on marriage equality, and then about one of his own children coming out, the Labor leader looked hypocritical for opposing the former despite still loving his hypothetical gay child “equally”.
Listeners were left wondering why Rudd, as a parent, would treat his child equally, but as a Prime Minister he would not.
Later the same day, Rudd’s performance on same-sex adoption was just as gormless.
Rudd tried to explain that he supports adoption by same-sex couples in circumstances where the choice for a particular child is between parents in a same-sex relationship or no parents at all.
But his stumbling attempt to justify this middling position, and to palm the issue of to the states, will neither convince same-sex couples that he respects them, nor the religious right that he is a social conservative.
Labor is now confronted with the real possibility that an already- sceptical gay community will desert it in key marginal seats and swing behind either the Greens or small ‘l’ Liberals like Malcolm Turnbull who hold out the promise of a new Coalition under new leadership.
No less serious for Labor is the possible loss of those socially- conservative religious voters Rudd has worked tirelessly to shake from the Coalition’s tree over issues like industrial relations and Iraq.
Right-wing religious leaders who oppose same-sex adoption on principle and who want gay children sent to conversion therapy, now have the anti-Labor ammunition they’ve been craving.
Also expect the Government to make hay with Rudd’s comments, especially on adoption. It will conveniently ignore the distinctions Rudd has drawn between different circumstances and jurisdictions.
All of this could have been avoided if Kevin Rudd had been a more avid spruiker of his party’s own policy.
In April the ALP National Conference adopted a new platform of recognising same-sex de facto couples across all those national laws which continue to discriminate against and disadvantage them, a policy which received important backing from a major Human Rights Commission report on the issue released in June.
The ALP also promised a Tasmanian-style registry for unmarried couples – gay, straight and companionate – in all the states and territories.
Although this new policy re-affirmed Labor’s opposition to same-sex marriage, it was, in every other respect, a big step forward, and certainly streets ahead of the Coalition’s policy of tackling discrimination on a glacierly-slow “case-by-case” basis.
But you’d never know this from listening to Kevin Rudd.
He has largely kept mum on it, leaving lower-profile front-bench figures like Joe Ludwig and Anthony Albanese to push it.
When it has come up, Rudd has been strong on traditional marriage but shown almost a deliberate ignorance of the gay-friendly aspects of his policy.
He says he hasn’t read the Human Rights Commission report, and it shows. Of the two examples of unjust discrimination against same-sex de facto couple he consistently cites, one – inheritance – is a state issue, and the other – social security – is one of the few areas in which discrimination gives gay couples an advantage.
Moreover he conflates the two arms of his party’s platform, wrongly asserting that the role of relationship registries is to certify that de facto relationships exist.
Rudd’s obvious discomfort with same-sex legal entitlements is nothing new.
In the 2006 essay in which Rudd outlined his political and religious values, the newly-elected Labor leader urged Christians to end their preoccupation with “sexual behaviour”.
But when it came to what moral issues they should be concerned about Rudd conspicuously failed to cite discrimination and violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people despite listing many other similar social injustices, and despite urging his readers to “always take the side of the marginalized, the vulnerable and the oppressed”.
Rudd’s claim that his views are inspired by German anti-Nazi theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, turned my mind to the fact that for all their hatred of National Socialism, West Germany’s post-war Christian leaders left the gay men imprisoned under Hitler in gaol.
Whatever the cause of Rudd’s blind spot the effect is that it allows others to set the agenda.
Where he could be focusing the national debate on the day-to-day financial and legal disadvantages that 11 years of conservative rule have failed to eliminate, he is instead leaving the field wide open for hot-button issues.
Where he could be following the advice of US commentator George Lakoff’s and framing the debate in terms of his Party’s strengths, he is allowing others to frame that debate in terms of its weaknesses.
Kevin Rudd has four weeks to turn around what will inevitably continue to be a significant election issue.
Labor’s policy gives him the way. The question is,has he the will?