ACT News

Andrew Barr set to become Australia's first openly gay state or territory leader

Treasurer Andrew Barr looks all but certain to become Australia's first openly gay state or territory leader next week, after Katy Gallagher resigned as ACT Chief Minister on Friday.

The 41-year-old has been a champion of same-sex equality in territory and national politics and celebrated a civil union with his long-time partner Anthony Toms in Canberra in November 2009.

Elected to the Legislative Assembly in 2006, Mr Barr helped spearhead the ACT Government's historic same-sex marriage law last year, later overturned by the High Court.

In November 2011, he joined Labor Senator Penny Wong in moving a motion to change the Labor Party's national platform to allow for same-sex marriage.

Mr Barr was a key campaigner for the internal party reform, arguing the position was consistent with Labor's tradition of equality and support for human rights.

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Mr Barr's likely elevation from Deputy Chief Minister has been welcomed by leaders of Australia's gay community including by former Greens leader Bob Brown.

"The very fact that there is this prospect without public objection is a big breakthrough," Mr Brown said.

"It is significant that Barr would be a very popular choice, and shows again that the public is way ahead of the politicians on Capital Hill when it comes to equality."  

The first openly gay member of the federal Parliament, Mr Brown said a gay state or territory leader was another step towards full legal and social equality in Australian.

He said bigotry still existed in Australian life but Mr Barr's leadership would help the eventual legalisation of same-sex marriage.

Former South Australian premier Don Dunstan's sexuality was a source of speculation during his nine years in power in the 1970s.

His relationship with a man was public knowledge at the time of his death in 1999 and came after two marriages.

Australian Marriage Equality deputy director Ivan Hinton-Teoh said Mr Barr's success was recognition of "the overwhelming support and acceptance gay and lesbian Canberrans enjoy in Canberra".

"It reflects the enormous amount of broad support that Canberrans have for diversity so I am delighted that the ACT will be the first jurisdiction to have an openly gay political leader," he said. 

"It is a beautiful reflection of the unique nature of our community and I think it shows younger Australians that sexuality is no longer an issue when it comes to being able to participate fully in political life."

Mr Barr and Mr Toms met at the first SpringOut gay and lesbian festival in 1999. Mr Toms works at a men's clothing boutique in Canberra.  

A member of the ALP's right faction, Mr Barr has spoken about his role as a gay politician and about being subjected to gossip and attacks in party circles. 

In an interview in 2012, he said he would like to have children after his political career.  

"I came out to my family at one of our regular Sunday dinners in 1999," he told The Canberra Times.

"My dad has two sons - one gay and one straight - and he'd like both of them to have the same rights.

"I would like to be a father one day but it is not going to happen whilst I am in politics."

His father James Barr said he was proud of his son's career.

"Andrew's efforts in Rainbow Labor which resulted in the change to the ALP platform on same-sex marriage are a major highlight," James Barr said in 2012.

"His comments in introducing the resolution at the last national conference say it all and I haven't heard any argument that in any way rebuts what he said.

"What I believe is most important is my son's happiness - it is abundantly evident that he is happy in his relationship with Anthony.

"For me, that is the beginning and the end of the story."

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