ABC INTERVIEW: HATE SPEECH & MARRIAGE EQUALITY

NICK RHEINBERGER :  It is alleged by the government that there are strongly held, sincere options on both sides, that’s fair enough. And that we can a peaceful debate. On the other hand we've seen people like Penny Wong saying it's going to whip up hatred, this whole debate, this whole postal plebiscite. We've seen it just yesterday with the Member for Whitlam Stephen Jones, who was one of the major proponents of same-sex marriage legislation for quite some time. On his twitter feed yesterday he put up a pretty disturbing piece of what he called 'fan mail'. And he is here with us now at 96.3 ABC Illawarra. Stephen Jones, good morning.

STEPHEN JONES: Good morning Nick, good to be with you.

NICK RHEINBERGER: Tell us about this 'fan mail'?

STEPHEN JONES:  I just wanted to put an example of the sort of stuff that members of parliament get routinely on this sort of stuff on a daily basis. This is a pretty good example. I didn't expose the identity of the person. But I wanted to make it quite clear for those who are suggesting that we won't get this sort of hate speech going on in the context of this marriage equality debate, you're deluding yourself. It happens on a daily basis. It will be out there.

It doesn't affect me so much, I've got to say, but if you're the child of a same-sex couple, and there are thousands of those, I personally know plenty. If you're the parent of a same-sex child and you're hearing this sort of stuff, it does, it hurts a lot. 

NICK RHEINBERGER: I'm going to quote directly from it. You're probably being too polite to do so, but it says, after you supported Penny Wong, for instance, it says: " You are a queer. Get back in the place where you belong. Stop meddling with normal people's lives. Try bungey jumping without the rope." Now there's a lot in here, but the thing that sticks out for me is "stop meddling with normal people's lives." How does this legislation affect any normal white, straight person like you and I, Stephen? Does it affect us at all?

STEPHEN JONES: I can't, for how the life of me, see how my marriage with my wife and my family is affected by allowing other people who have a different sexual orientation - two consenting adults deciding that they love each other to get married - I can't see, for the life of me, see how it impacts on me, my wife, my family or anyone else like that. And frankly I said a long, long time ago, one of the most convincing things for me about why I support marriage equality was the absolute paucity of the arguments against it. They are all arguments against gay relationships, not against marriage, and Australia has moved on from that.

NICK RHEINBERGER: Something else that interests me is one of the arguments, is we really need to find out what people think before we change the definition of marriage in Australia. Is it true that the definition was changed without any consultation of the Australian people by John Howard?

STEPHEN JONES: It is absolutely true. There were amendments made to the marriage act in the second last term of the Howard government. The other point I'd make is the concept and definition of marriage has changed enormously over the last hundred years. There was a time when, in this country and in other countries, where an Aboriginal person couldn't marry a white person.There was a time when to get married you had to offer a dowry. There was a time when, under law, the wife was the property of the husband. There was a time when it was normal that wives offered a vow of obedience to their husbands. I can imagine I probably wouldn't be married today if I had to do any of those sorts of things.

NICK RHEINBERGER: I think it might have been true that if you were a commonwealth employee you couldn't work after you were married. Is that correct?

STEPHEN JONES: Absolutely true. It was in the law.

NICK RHEINBERGER: If you were a woman, that is. If you married someone, well, you can't work anymore. The husband's going to provide for you.  

STEPHEN JONES: It was known as the marriage bar. It was known as the marriage bar and it was removed in 1974. Our laws, our attitudes to these things have changed a lot over the years. I don't see this as an enormous step. There are some religions that don't recognise it and they will never solemnify a same-sex marriage. That's fine. Religious freedom will continue in this country. Just as there are some religions, including my own, that won't marry an ex-divorcee. There is nothing in the law that is  being proposed that is going to prevent people of faith continuing to practice their faith. By the same token, they shouldn't be imposing their faith on people who don't share it and who want to have their relationship recognised as a marriage in the same way that mine is. 

NICK RHEINBERGER: What's your view of the postal plebiscite and a potential boycott of it. It seems to me, just logically, boycotting it would have totally the opposite effect that people might intend. If people who support same-sex marriage boycott it, therefore we'll get a result which is skewed the other way which will make parliament vote a particular way. I find the logic of a boycott strange compared to say, boycotting South Africa for say 20 or 30 years.

STEPHEN JONES: I spoke passionately in the parliament two days ago against this $122 million postal vote. I think it's a waste of time.However, if it does proceed, and there a big question mark over that, it seems to be unravelling 48 hours after it was announced, there'll be a legal challenge, but if it does proceed, I don't support a boycott for this reason: does a boycott mean that you stop advocating for the principles that you believe in? Either your policies or your thoughts? And clearly it can't. I don't think boycotts are a very good form of political action in these sort of circumstances. It means you just vacate the field to people who disagree with you. I don't think it's a good idea, but I don't support a boycott of it.  

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