Public vote on same-sex marriage will license hate speech, warns senator

Penny Wong says heterosexual politicians do not appreciate the discrimination many LGBT Australians still face.

Australian senator Penny Wong has hit out at plans to hold a plebiscite – a non-binding public vote – on the issue of same-sex marriage in the country.

It comes after the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said Bill Shorten and Wong’s Labor party was “running a scare campaign about a plebiscite on gay marriage”.

Turnbull said a plebiscite would be conducted in a civil and respectful way.

However, Wong said Turnbull’s claims the campaign would be respectful were “the hollowest of hollow words”.

She claimed that the proposed non-binding plebiscite was “just the latest in a series of obstacles erected by opponents of marriage equality”.

“I know that a plebiscite designed to deny me and many other Australians a marriage certificate will instead license hate speech to those who need little encouragement.”

“Mr Turnbull – and many commentators on this subject – don’t understand that for gay and lesbian Australians hate speech is not abstract,” Wong added.

She used the abuse she regularly faces on Twitter as proof that “words that hurt” would be used in the debate against LGBT Australians during the campaign.

“Many gay and lesbian people don’t hold hands on the street because they don’t know what reaction they’ll get,” she continued.

“Some hide who they are for fear of the consequences at home, at work and at school.

“Not one straight politician advocating a plebiscite on marriage equality knows what that’s like.

“What it’s like to live with the casual and deliberate prejudice that some still harbour.”

“I don’t oppose a plebiscite because I doubt the good sense of the Australian people. I oppose a plebiscite because I don’t want my relationship – my family – to be the subject of inquiry, of censure, of condemnation, by others.”

Turnbull, who supports equal marriage despite opposition from the majority of his MPs, previously expressed frustration with the plebiscite plan, which came about before he gained power in a party coup.