Australian opposition leader shifts position on gay marriage

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Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, left, speaks as opposition leader Bill Shorten listens at a leaders' debate at the National Press Club in Canberra.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, left, speaks as opposition leader Bill Shorten listens at a leaders' debate at the National Press Club in Canberra. (Photo: AP Photo/Tracey Nearmy/Pool, File)

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia's opposition leader has explained his shift on gay marriage, which will be a key issue in elections this weekend.

The center-left Labor Party opposes the conservative government's plan to hold a plebiscite this year to allow the public a direct say on whether Australia should give legal recognition to same-sex marriage.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten confirmed a newspaper report Wednesday that he had told Christian church leaders in 2013 that he supported such a plebiscite.

Labor's position now is that Parliament should make the decision on same-sex marriage.

Shorten cited as a reason for his change of heart "some very ugly arguments" raised at the Irish referendum last year in which 62 percent of Irish voters called for their constitution to be changed to allow same-sex marriage.

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