Video of two high-profile Australian politicians squaring off about marriage equality has gone viral down under. On Monday night, Finance Minister Penny Wong and Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey appeared on a panel on the ABC show Q&A, filmed in front of a live audience and broadcast live on national television. Audience member Ross Scheepers addressed the final question of the evening to Hockey, and it was a zinger:
. . . Earlier you said you think all Australians are equal, but on Friday you said you wouldn’t vote for marriage equality because you really believe children deserve a mother and a father. So I’m wondering if you could tell us, and Senator Wong, why you think you and Melissa make better parents than her and Sophie.
As the audience resoundingly applauded, the camera cut to Hockey — looking veeeeeery uncomfortable — and then briefly to Wong, who flashed a tight-lipped smile and seemed surprised at the pointed, personal question. (While Wong is openly gay, she hasn’t made marriage equality a campaign issue.) Hockey denied that he thought he and his wife were better parents simply because they’re an opposite-gender couple, but said that when he became a parent, he came to feel that “we’ve got to give our children what I believe to be the very best circumstances, and that’s to have a mother and a father.”
The audience reacts in a deliciously awkward manner: one person begins clapping, and a handful of others tepidly join in. The tension is palpable. Hockey exacerbates it further by elaborating that when it comes to marriage equality, “[he's] being asked to legislate in favor of something that [he doesn't] believe to be the best outcome for a child.” (Note: there is no evidence whatsoever that opposite-sex couples are inherently better parents or achieve better outcomes than same-sex couples, or that children of non-LGBT parents do better than those with LGBT parents.)
Asked to respond to Hockey’s remarks, a still-stunned Wong begins with “Well, there’s almost nothing I can say.” She then proceeds to deliver a remarkably candid and dignified rebuttal to Hockey’s discriminatory remarks:
The first logical point is, marriage has generally not been prerequisite for children, so I don’t think the logical position holds, but just from a sort of values perspective, it is sad, I think, that some families have to feel that they have to justify who they are. . . When you say those things, Joe, what you’re saying to not just me, but people like me, is that the most important thing in our lives — which is the people we love — is somehow less good, less valued. And if you believe that, then you believe that, but I have a different view.
When the moderator asks Wong if remarks like Hockey’s are hurtful, she replies, “Oh, of course it is,” then resolutely adds, “But . . . I know what my family is worth.”
Australian Marriage Equality campaign coordinator Rodney Croome called the exchange a “watershed moment” in the battle for the hearts and minds of average Australians. In the days since it aired, Croome said the AME office has been overwhelmed with messages of support for Wong. He also reported a surge in AME’s web traffic caused by a large number of supportive citizens sending emails to their MPs through the group’s website, and noted that those making contact tended to be older, straight voters.
The National Times reports that while marriage equality legislation is not likely to pass in Parliament, it is wildly popular with Australian voters, enjoying over 60 percent support. But I didn’t need a poll to tell me that. Comparing the near-silence of the Q&A audience after Hockey spoke and their uproarious response to Wong’s from-the-heart comments tells me everything I need to know.
Check out the video below. What do you think?