After nearly ten years of fighting the combined might of the Labor and Liberal parties, it is undoubtedly a milestone that the ALP has elected its first pro-marriage equality leader. It is an indication of the impact the campaign has had on Australian politics, and a credit to the thousands who have campaigned, demonstrated and spoken out in support of equality.

It is now incumbent on Rudd and the ALP to turn words into action. It is high time they used their parliamentary influence to send a message that homophobia is wrong and that LGBTI people are entitled to be treated equally under the law.

There is now no excuse for them not to support and pass equal marriage legislation within the first 100 days of parliament should they win the next election. In order to do this, they will need to overturn the disgraceful conscience vote policy adopted in 2010, which has proved the major block to marriage equality legislation being passed thus far.

Should equal marriage legislation still be unable to pass, the Labor Party must move to hold a referendum to decide the issue. If the politicians prove themselves to be so mired in bigotry as to be unable to extend basic civil rights to all, marriage equality advocates should be happy for the mass of people to do it for them.

There is every indication such a referendum would succeed. Poll after poll demonstrates that support for equal rights is overwhelming, with over 60 percent of the general public in support, and up to 80 percent of young people. But of course victory in a referendum cannot be taken for granted.

Supporters of marriage equality will need to mobilise, to win more people to our side and respond to the inevitable wave of bigotry that will emanate from the headquarters of the Australian Christian Lobby and their Liberal Party mates.

This is a challenge we should not be afraid to take up.

History demonstrates that referendums on civil rights, which are at heart a political battle between the left and right in society, tend to be resolved in favour of greater rights and freedom for the oppressed and persecuted.

The majority in Australia have twice voted to reject conscription (the right of the government to force workers to be slaughtered in wars), while the 1951 referendum to ban the Communist Party similarly resulted in a rout for the establishment and a win for democratic rights.

The 1967 referendum, which extended citizenship rights to Aboriginal people, won overwhelmingly in what was a profound and lasting blow against state-sanctioned racism.

A referendum is a legitimate means by which equal rights for LGBTI people could be won in Australia. A mass campaign for a yes vote could galvanise a new layer of pro-equality activists, and in the process achieve not just legal equality but greater awareness of the many ways in which LGBTI people are marginalised and oppressed in Australian society.

But whatever the means, it is clear that marriage equality won’t be won without a fight. Now is the time to escalate that fight.