At the ALP's last national conference two years ago, the party reaffirmed its commitment to maintaining marriage as being only between a man and a woman. Even support for gay civil unions seemed a long way off.
This year, the party amended its official policy platform to advocate same-sex marriage. How did such a rapid change come about and who were the key players behind it?
The ALP activists
Andrew Barr and Louise Pratt are the driving force behind the Rainbow Labor Network, a group of Labor MPs agitating for gay rights within the party.
"Rainbow Labor has been around in various forms for years but it's only this year that it's pulled itself together work strategically and systematically on an issue," an ALP insider tells The Power Index.
Throughout the year, Rainbow Labor's leadership group have met for day-long strategy sessions and over the past six weeks the group has held weekly late-night telephone conference calls. Their focus has been on targeting ALP delegates across the factional divide and drafting an amendment to the platform that would be capable of winning broad support.
Barr, who came out as gay in the late 1990s, is the Deputy Chief Minister of the ACT. He moved the motion on same-sex marriage at Saturday's ALP conference but surprised some by siding with his faction, the Right, to support a conscience vote on the issue.
Pratt, who represents Western Australia in the Senate, made history in 2008 as the first member of parliament with a transgendered partner. As an upper house MP in the WA parliament, the left-winger played a key role in drafting a 2002 law that banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and granted the right for same-sex couples to adopt children.
Other key members of Rainbow Labor include Julia Gillard's former chief of staff Amanda Lampe and NSW upper house MP Penny Sharpe.
Last November, right faction heavyweight Mark Arbib announced that he was a same-sex marriage supporter -- a turning point according to ALP insiders.
"Mark Arbib was absolutely criticial," says Steve Michelson, who played a key role in organising numbers for Ranbow Labor in the national right caucus. "He was the one who turned on the tap and allowed the right to have a free vote on the platform."
The gay rights campaigners
Rodney Croome, an anti-homophobia activist since the late 1980s, is the elder statesman of the Australian gay rights movement. He's the campaign co-ordinator for Australian Marriage Equality and the spokesperson for the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group. He fronted the successful campaign to decriminalise homosexuality in Tasmania, which until May 1997 was a criminal offense punishable by up to 25 years in jail. In 2004 Tasmania became the first state to legalise gay civil unions.
He's been joined more recently by Alex Greenwich, the articulate and well-presented 31-year old national convener of Australian Marriage Equality. The group has built up community support for change -- 5,000 showed up at Saturday's Sydney rally -- and lobbied MPs behind closed doors.
"Rodney does the backroom stuff and Alex is more up-front with media," says a veteran gay rights campaigner. "But together, they have made a big difference as a formidable team ... Together, this duo have met with almost every federal MP (sometimes more than once), and have co-ordinated the amazingly successful campaign for AME, which has seen public opinion go from 38% support in 2004, to over 60% currently. They were so successful, that Rainbow Labor had to emulate them and to some extent, fall in behind them."
The union heavies
Given the unions control 50% of the votes on the ALP conference floor, their votes were vital in securing a change to the ALP platform.
Australian Workers Union boss Paul Howes made a splash late last year by announcing his support for same-sex marriage – a big call given many of his members in manufacturing industries don't agree with his stance.
The Australian Services Union's NSW secretary Sally McManus has played a key role in creating a coalition of eleven unions – including teachers, fire-fighters and nurses – that has campaigned for marriage equality.
And credit for the coup de grâce goes to Victorian branch president of the National Workers Union Tim Kennedy, who delivered 15 vital votes from the right.