The Wong vs Bernardi marriage equality smackdown explained in five minutes

July 30, 2015
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Labor senator Penny Wong and Liberal senator Cory Bernardi’s views on same-sex marriage are well known to most Australians. In a nutshell, lefty Wong stands for equal love, while conservative Bernardi wants traditional heterosexual norms to remain as they are, now and forever.

So yesterday’s National Press Club debate over marriage equality – which was broadcast live on ABC News 24 – revealed few surprises, but some notable zingers.

Here’s what went down when Wong and Bernardi went head to head.

She said

After giving an emotional speech at the ALP national conference calling for Australian legislation of same-sex marriage last weekend, Wong kicked off debate proceedings at the NPC by referencing Ireland’s historic gay marriage vote and the recent US Supreme Court ruling in favour of same-sex marriage nationwide.

She highlighted that the want for change in Australia is now a national majority – most Australians believe gay and lesbian people should be legally allowed to marry. Wong went on to point out that this ongoing debate is not abstract, and it’s not about intangible concepts; it’s about real people.

“We are your brothers and your sisters, your sons and your daughters, your friends and your fellow Australians, and this is a debate about us,” Wong said.

Wong’s allocated time consisted of rousing words made poignant by Wong’s own personal position within the debate. While she remained outwardly unemotional, her words were impassioned, and she managed to show a hint of the warm humanity she so often conceals with her habitually robotic politician mask.

He said

Cool, calm Bernardi began by injecting his intro with a dash of mystique, inexplicably claiming the marriage equality debate was not actually about equality, and that marriage was not invented; “marriage simply is”.

I’ll leave that to your interpretation.

He continued with a position that focused on the notion of rights – what they are, who has them, when something is not one, and when someone doesn’t deserve one because the thing they think is a right actually isn’t. He clarified by explaining, “It is children who have rights, and adults who have responsibilities”.

Bernardi elucidated further by saying children’s rights were at stake because married same-sex couples cannot be denied the right to have a family, but that he cannot deny that some same-sex couple make much better parents than married heterosexual couples.

OK. Let’s move on, shall we?

Question time

After their addresses, the floor was opened up for questions for Wong and Bernardi. The first question asked both senators to re-establish their positions on the “slippery slope” debate, stemming from Bernardi’s infamous claim that allowing same-sex marriage will lead to the eventual legalisation of bestiality and polygamy.

Wong showed up Bernardi by offering to stand with him that very day to officially oppose the legislation that may allow anyone in future to marry their dog. Laughter and applause ensued.

And while Bernardi waffled on – about religion being threatened, and maintaining the status quo, and wedding cake-bakers being taken to court, and won’t someone please think of the children? – it is hard to deny that Wong’s articulate, benevolent responses left her the winner of the 2015 Same-Sex Marriage Smackdown.

So what happens next? Until a change in government or a miracle occurs, the debate rages on.

Phoebe Hartley

Phoebe makes films, eats dumplings and studies journalism. She tweets sporadically at @phoebehartley.

Original images: Wikimedia Commons (altered by Hijacked) under Creative Commons license

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