It now takes a credit card to get a Gmail account — how anyone is OK with that is beyond me. If a free service ever asks me for my credit card, I immediately know that the service is “free”, not free.
Update: A couple of people have told me that: a) this is optional and/or b) this is due to Google wallet integration. Either way it is not ideal. With regard to iTunes requiring a credit card, I’d argue that you buy things with an iTunes account and not necessarily with a Gmail account.