The man set to replace Barnaby Joyce
GAY rights activists are "concerned" that Michael McCormack is on the cusp of becoming Deputy Prime Minister but they're willing to accept he no longer holds the homophobic views he expressed more than 20 years ago.
Mr McCormack is set to replace Barnaby Joyce as Nationals leader when the party room votes on the issue in Canberra on Monday morning after his main opponent David Littleproud withdrew from the race late last night.
The Veterans' Affairs minister has been forced to apologise throughout his career for a country newspaper editorial he penned in 1993 describing homosexuals as "sordid" and blaming them for AIDS.
just.equal spokesman Rodney Croome says many LGBTI Australians are "justifiably concerned" about Mr McCormack potentially becoming Deputy PM.
"The apologies Mr McCormack made in the past are welcome but given the hatefulness of what he said, and the high office he may step in to, he needs to walk the talk," Mr Croome told AAP.
"He needs to get behind initiatives that will reduce the unacceptably high levels of LGBTI isolation, prejudice and suicide that still exist in some parts of rural Australia.
"He needs to heal the wounds caused by the kind of prejudices he publicly expressed in the past."
Sydney City councillor Christine Forster, who was a vocal campaigner for gay marriage, says it's fair that questions are asked, given Mr McCormack's 1993 column was "abhorrent".
"If you're in public life you have to expect to be subjected to that kind of scrutiny," she told AAP.
But Ms Forster acknowledges the editorial was written a long time ago. "He's said he doesn't hold those views anymore and you've got to take that at face value," she said on Sunday, adding the Riverina MP "did the right thing" by not opposing same-sex marriage reform in late 2017.
Ms Forster - whose brother, former PM Tony Abbott, opposes marriage equality - insists people can "evolve" over time.
"Happily homosexuality is not something that has to be closeted anymore and most Australians have family members, friends, colleagues or neighbours who are gay - and of course that interaction with other human beings can change people's views." An Equality Campaign spokesman on Sunday said regional Australians overwhelming voted Yes to gay marriage because they believed everyone should be treated equally.
"They expect the leadership of the Nationals, like all parties, to adhere to the wishes of the majority of Australians who believe our LGBTI family and friends deserve the same level of respect," he told AAP.
During the gay marriage debate, Mr McCormack once again apologised for the 1993 editorial in Wagga Wagga's Daily Advertiser.
"I have grown and learnt not only to tolerate but to accept all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, or any other trait or feature which makes each of us different and unique," he said in a statement in August.
Mr McCormack's only potential opponent for the Nationals leadership, Queensland MP David Littleproud who voted against the gay marriage legislation, withdrew from the race saying "it is time for The Nationals to get behind Michael McCormack as Leader [of the Nationals] and focus on delivering for regional Australia together".