Arch conservative Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi and openly gay Labor Senator Penny Wong engaged in a debate about marriage equality at the National Press Club on Thursday, and things got fiery when Bernardi's past comments about bestiality were mentioned.
Responding to a question about 2012 comments where Bernardi appeared to link marriage equality to bestiality, the Senator denied he had ever made such a link.
"Do you still believe that legalising same-sex marriage will lead to bestiality and polygamy?" Bernardi was asked.
"I never said it would lead to that," Bernardi responded. "I merely said that if we redefine marriage it would lead to further calls for redefinition and for other relationship types to be in there. I don't know where that will lead."
Senator Wong gave Bernardi her personal guarantee that she would join him in opposing any laws which would legalise bestiality, before pointing viewers to the Senate Hansard for a record of Bernardi's comments.
So what exactly did Bernardi say all the way back in 2012? It's all there in Hansard.
Back then, the Senate was debating an amendment to the Marriage Act 1964 which would have legalised marriage equality. Bernardi rose to oppose the amendment, this is what he said, when it came to the slippery slope' of marriage equality.
"If we are prepared to redefine marriage so that it suits the latest criterion that two people who love each other should be able to get married irrespective of their gender and/or if they are in a sexual relationship, then what is the next step? The next step, quite frankly, is having three people or four people that love each other being able to enter into a permanent union endorsed by society—or any other type of relationship. For those who say that I am being alarmist in this, there is the polyamory community who were very disappointed when the Greens had to distance themselves from their support for numerous people getting together and saying they want to enter into a permanent union. They were disappointed because they were misled that this was about marriage equality and opening up marriage to all people who love each other."
"There are even some creepy people out there—and I say 'creepy' deliberately—who are unfortunately afforded a great deal more respect than I believe they deserve. These creepy people say it is okay to have consensual sexual relations between humans and animals. Will that be a future step? In the future will we say, 'These two creatures love each other and maybe they should be able to be joined in a union.' It is extraordinary that these sorts of suggestions are put forward in the public sphere and are not howled down right at the very start. We can talk about people like Professor Peter Singer who was, I think, a founder of the Greens or who wrote a book about the Greens. Professor Singer has appeared on Q&A on the ABC, the national broadcaster. He has endorsed such ideas as these. I reject them. I think that these things are the next step. As we accede to one request we will then have the next one which will be for unions of more than two people. We will have suggestions for unions of three or four people. I notice the Greens are heckling, but the point is that they misled their constituent base and there was an outcry about this. Where do we go then? Do we go down the Peter Singer path? Those that say this is the end of the social revolution have no history of being honourable about that. They continue to push and challenge our social and cultural mores. We simply cannot allow such an important social institution to be redefined, especially when Australians do not see this as a priority issue."
For the record, then-opposition leader Tony Abbott forced Bernardi to resign over the comments.
Rob Stott is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Rob Stott at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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