The moment Penny Wong won the same-sex marriage debate.

Wong v Bernardi.

Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi and Labor Senator Penny Wong went head-to-head in a debate on same-sex marriage at the National Press Club today.

Senator Wong was Team Same Sex Marriage, of course.

And Senator Bernardi was on the side of ‘marriage is a union between a man and a woman etc etc etc.’ (You might remember Bernardi as the staunchly conservative Catholic who in 2012 provoked outrage by linking same-sex legalisation to the acceptance of bestiality.)

Penny Wong: “It’s time our national parliament heeded the call for change form the Australian community.” Screenshot via ABC.

Senator Wong – who lives with her long-term partner Sophie Allouche and their two daughters – kicked off the debate.

“Australians pride ourselves on our egalitarianism, a fair go to all. Quality is central to our spirit, a part of our national identity,” she said.

“Misogyny and discrimination haven’t been eliminated, but they are no longer entrenched in law,” she said, referring to women earning the right to vote.

“The institution of marriage has evolved too… It’s time our national parliament heeded the call for change from the Australian community.”

Senator Wong, herself a practicing Christian — and one of the 53 percent of Christians who support marriage equality in Australia, according to Galaxy Polling — reminded the audience that what she is fighting for “does not mandate marriage in our religious institutions”.

She clarified the proposed move would only affect civil marriages.


Senator Wong then powerfully concluded that: “This is more than a theoretical debate. This is a debate about real people. We are your brothers and your sisters, your sons and your daughters, your friends and your fellow Australians.”

If Australia legalises marriage equality, she said, “the sun will rise. Heterosexual marriages won’t crumble… but we will have made a profound change.”


“I believe this campaign is not about equality but its about personal desire and self interest of a vocal minority,” Senator Bernardi said. Screenshot via ABC.

South Australian Senator Bernardi began his opening argument by framing the issue as “the homosexual marriage debate” and a “textbook propaganda debate” by human rights groups.

I believe this campaign is not about equality but its about personal desire and self interest of a vocal minority,” the conservative Senator said, adding that many right-wing and religious commentators were being “silenced” from sharing their views.

Senator Bernardi proceeded to launch into a tirade about the so-called danger to the family unit posed by same-sex parents.

“The ideal is still a child being raised by their married mother and father,” he said.

Pushed on that point by a question from the audience, Senator Bernardi elaborated: “A same-sex couple can’t produce children alone, they need assistance from a third party. That makes a difference to, I guess, the relationship for that child.

“There is a different role that a father plays and a  mother plays. They’re complementary… I just don’t think it’s in the interest of society to deny these complementary inputs.”


Senator Wong — who welcomed her second child in December — interjected at one point: “We already have children, so it’s not actually the issue in the marriage equality debate.”

Bernardi (L) and Wong (R). Screenshot via ABC.

Pointing to instances of some wedding vendors being sued overseas for refusing to photograph gay weddings, Senator Bernardi added that when same-sex marriage is legalised, “then the process of eroding rights of others begins”.

Related: Em Rusciano writes, “Cory Bernardi is a professional pot stirrer, plain and simple.” 

A journalist then asked Senator Bernardi to confirm whether he still believed same-sex marriage could lead to the legalisation of bestiality.

Senator Wong drew a laugh from the audience when she quipped: “I would say to Cory, if you want a statement from me that I would stand with you in a defence against bestiality being recognised in law, I’m happy to give that today.”

She went on to give one of the most powerful statements of the whole debate: “We don’t shout you down, we don’t denigrate your relationships. We don’t say your children are compromised… so who are the people hurling insults in this debate?”

Some Twitter responses to the debate (post continues after gallery):

When Senator Bernardi emphasised that he was a Liberal ‘through and through’ — saying “In the Liberal party, it’s in our interest to maintain the status quo” — Senator Wong questioned whether he understood the meaning of Liberalism.


“Liberals believe in the freedom of the individual,” she pointed out.

Labor Senator Penny Wong during her marriage equality speech last Sunday.

Today’s debate followed a decision at Labor’s national conference at the weekend that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten would legislate for same-sex marriage within 100 days of government, if the party is elected.

The party also agreed to bind MPs to vote for marriage equality, rather than have a conscience vote, if laws had not been enacted by the end of the next term.

At that conference, Senator Wong drew a standing ovation as she delivered a powerful speech on marriage equality. (Read more about that speech here.)

In what may have been the presentation of her career, a clearly emotional Senator Wong called for Labor to unite as a party in favour of marriage equality.

“LGBTI Australians deserve equal treatment before the law. And I say to you the aspiration for equality is remarkable persistence. And we will continue until we win,” Sen Wong said in her speech.

Sen Wong with her partner Sophie Allouche, with whom she has two daughters.

“Marriage equality is a campaign of hope. It is a campaign of justice. It is a campaign of equality, but most of all, delegates — and this is why we will win —  it is a campaign for those we love.”

In that speech, Senator Wong also thanked her colleagues and the LGBTI advocates for their hard work.

“I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the work you’ve done,” she said.


“I say to you, progress has never been easily won. Reform is never easily won.”

Watch Penny Wong’s speech on marriage equality at the 2015 ALP national conference here (Post continues after video):

Video via Labor Herald

According to Marriage Equality Australia, Galaxy Research polling show that 81 percent of people aged 18-24 years support marriage equality, and 64 percent of Australians support marriage equality.

SBS news reports the percentage of Australians who support the reform may be as high as 70 percent.
Social media reactions to Senator Wong’s speech:

Related content:

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These are the 10 people blocking marriage equality in Australia.

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‘Yes, the LGBT+ community has an agenda.’