GAY marriage proved a headache for Julia Gillard at her party's conference in December. But, in the current climate, she just might be relieved to converse on any subject that doesn't involve Kevin Rudd.
The Prime Minister will get the chance tonight, when she hosts three same-sex couples at the Lodge, the upshot of an auction of six tickets for dinner with Ms Gillard that were bought by the activist group GetUp! at the Canberra press gallery's mid-winter ball last year.
Two of the planned guests said yesterday that while they hoped the atmosphere would be relaxed and informal, Ms Gillard would be in for some straight talk about how Australia's refusal to recognise gay marriage hurts them.
John Dini, 29, who will be there with his partner of nine years, Steve Russell, 51, said the aim of the dinner was to put a ''human touch'' on the issue of legalising gay marriage, which Ms Gillard opposes. The couple live in Ms Gillard's seat of Lalor, in Melbourne's west, where they own and a butcher's shop.
''It's disappointing that a party that was once quite a socially progressive party has bowed to pressure from the right and religious groups,'' Mr Dini said. ''It's discrimination; there's no other way to describe it.''
Mr Dini did not vote for Ms Gillard at the last election, although he voted for Labor when Kevin Rudd was leader in 2007. The ALP, he said, takes the safe seat of Lalor for granted. In 2010 he voted Greens because they were the only party advocating same-sex marriage.
Sharon Dane, 54, a Brisbane social scientist, will be at the dinner with her wife Elaine Crump, 53, who works in maintenance.
The couple tied the knot in Canada, which allows same-sex marriage. Ms Dane said it was ''hurtful'' always having to explain to people the status of their relationship before they got married. ''Apart from the sex of the people we're attracted to, our feelings of love and commitment is not different to anyone else's,'' she said.
Statistically speaking, Ms Gillard, as a left-leaning, unmarried atheist, makes an unusual opponent of gay marriage, Ms Dane and Mr Dini both noted. It's an issue that has raised questions about whether Ms Gillard has taken the stance out of political considerations.
''That's something I'd love to ask tomorrow night,'' Mr Dini said.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.