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Australia prime minister fights own party to stay in office

SYDNEY — The embattled prime minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, was fighting for her political life Thursday after she accepted a public demand for a leadership ballot put forward by a senior lawmaker from her ruling Labor Party, who said that the party’s only hope of prevailing in upcoming elections was to return to office the man Gillard deposed in a 2010 party coup.

The senior lawmaker, Simon Crean, who led the Labor Party when it was in the opposition from 2001 to 2003, told reporters at a hastily assembled news conference in the capital, Canberra, that he had personally asked Gillard to hold the ballot — known in Australia as a “spill” — because the party had lost its way and had no confidence in her leadership.

A defiant Gillard quickly announced on the floor of Parliament that she would hold the ballot at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.

In the meantime, she told her colleagues, “take your best shot.”

Gillard became Australia’s first female prime minister in a party coup that ousted Kevin Rudd, who was derided during his tenure for an authoritarian leadership style. But she has seen her poll ratings plummet since announcing in January, unusually early, that federal elections would be held in September.

Gillard has led a tenuous minority government since her parliamentary majority was diminished in a disappointing 2010 election. Although she beat back a leadership challenge from Rudd early in 2012, she has since slid in the polls against Tony Abbott, the leader of the opposition Liberal-National coalition.

Rudd has insisted that he would not challenge Gillard for the leadership, but his supporters, including Crean, seemed confident that Rudd would be nominated and would prevail in Thursday’s vote.

Matt Siegel, The New York Times

Pediatrics group backs gay marriage, says it helps children

The American Academy of Pediatrics declared its support for same-sex marriage for the first time Thursday, saying that allowing gay and lesbian parents to marry if they so choose is in the best interests of their children.

The academy’s new policy statement says same-sex marriage helps guarantee rights, benefits and long-term security for children, while acknowledging that it does not now ensure access to federal benefits. When marriage is not an option, the academy said, children should not be deprived of foster care or adoption by single parents or couples, whatever their sexual orientation. The academy’s review of scientific literature began more than four years ago, and the result is a 10-page report with 60 citations.

“If the studies are different in their design and sample but the results continue to be similar, that gives scientists and consumers more faith in the result,” said Dr. Ellen Perrin, a co-author of the new policy and a professor of pediatrics at Tufts University School of Medicine. Other scientists called the evidence lackluster and said the academy’s endorsement was premature. Loren Marks, an associate professor of child and family studies at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, said there was not enough national data to support the pediatric association’s position on same-sex marriage.

“National policy should be informed by nationally representative data,” he said. “We are moving in the direction of higher-quality national data, but it’s slow.”

The academy cited research finding that a child’s well-being is much more affected by the strength of relationships among family members and a family’s social and economic resources than by the sexual orientation of the parents.

“There is an emerging consensus, based on extensive review of the scientific literature, that children growing up in households headed by gay men or lesbians are not disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents,” the academy said.

—Catherine Saint Louis, The New York Times