Australia's ruling Labor Party has officially endorsed same-sex marriage, although Prime Minister Julia Gillard does not support it.

At a party conference in Sydney, the party passed a resolution in support of gay marriage.

There was some debate within the Labor Party itself over the issue.

Finance Minister Penny Wong, who is herself in a same-sex relationship and the only openly gay cabinet minister, told reporters: Never doubt how persistent the campaign for equality is. This is a change that is long overdue.”

Long-time Labor Party member John Faulkner told the press: ''Will we rise to the great traditions of our party … and discard the bigotry of the last century? I don't believe it is appropriate for those opposed to this change to hide behind electoral arithmetic.''

However, Joe de Bruyn, a prominent Labor Party member and union official, countered: The definition of marriage as set out in the legislation is that it is the union of one man and one woman, voluntarily entered into for life. It has always been that way since the dawn of humanity.”

Some states in Australia permit civil unions, while gay marriage is banned in the country as a whole.

Although Labor currently has a slender majority in parliament over the Liberal Party (which opposes gay marriage), it will be very hard for the government to fully pass a law allowing such unions.

Indeed, according to Australian media, enough Labor MPs oppose such a bill to preclude it from being passed into law, although a majority of the public appears to support same-sex marriage according to recent opinion polls.

A bill on the proposal will likely be brought to parliament sometime early next year.