27/08/2015 10:00 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Julia Gillard Says I Do To Same Sex Marriage, But Rejects People's Vote

CANBERRA -- Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard has performed a U-turn on same sex marriage, revealing she now supports marriage equality and has argued that Tony Abbott's popular vote on the matter isn’t needed.

In a speech to the College of Law and Justice in Melbourne last night, Gillard said federal parliament must vote “yes” to marriage equality.

Gillard acknowledged her public opposition to same sex marriage while in the top job. She voted against same sex marriage in Federal Parliament and ensured Labor had a conscience vote, rather than a binding vote. As Prime Minister, she said she did not seek to influence the vote.

"I am aware that this vote by me was viewed as odd by many given what they know of my broader values. I am keenly aware my position was idiosyncratic," she told the audience.

“One of my staff members summarised it as that of a 1970s feminist. At least he had the courtesy to not call me a broken down 1970s feminist!”

Gillard stood by the traditional definition of marriage as Prime Minister, a position many same sex marriage supporters found difficult to reconcile with her stated feminism, atheism and unmarried status.

"Given the 1970s feminist in me saw much to be concerned with from a gender perspective with traditional marriage, I thought the better approach was not to change the old but to create something new," she said.

The former Prime Minister said the debate had moved on and she said she’d been awakened by the Abbott Government’s proposal to hold either a same sex marriage plebiscite or referendum.

“I am genuinely troubled about this proposal’s potential long-term ramifications for our democracy and its capacity to sustain reform.”

Gillard says Tony Abbott is inviting electors to believe that parliamentary decision making is an inadequate, even shoddy, way of creating change.”

“There is truly something absurd about politicians themselves inviting the public to conclude that politicians are not up to making a decision.”

Prime Minister Tony Abbott dismissed Gillard’s concerns.

“Look, Julia Gillard will have an opportunity to cast her vote on this matter just as every other Australian will, “Abbot told Channel Seven’s Sunrise.

“Every voter, about 18 million of us will have the chance to have our say on this in the next term of parliament should the coalition get elected. I think this should be a people's decision, not a politicians' decision.”

Long-time marriage equality campaigner, Rodney Croome said Gillard’s change of heart showed public figures could change their mind on the issue.

But, the national director of Australian Marriage Equality said it was an incredible lost opportunity.

"We urge other political leaders not to wait until it is too late for them to show leadership in parliament, as Ms Gillard has done."

The shadow parliamentary secretary to the opposition leader, Jim Chalmers says he is delighted by Gillard’s public conversion.

“I am really proud of her. I think it would be unfair to single her out as the only person who has changed their mind on marriage equality,” he told Sky News.

“I think it has been on way traffic really when it comes to that.”

But Liberal Senator Zed Seselja says same sex marriage has been put to the parliament many times and it has been rejected.

“Those in favour of it simply say well every time the parliament has rejected it that’s not good enough. Well the parliament has made a judgment many times and we say well why not put it to the people?”