Labor frontbencher Penny Wong believes the Coalition’s proposed plebiscite will license opponents of marriage equality to denigrate the LGBTI community.

Senator Wong, a lesbian mother of two, says heterosexual politicians fail to grasp the hatred gay and lesbian Australians will endure during a plebiscite on same-sex marriage.

She challenged Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s belief that the national vote would be conducted respectfully.

“A plebiscite designed to deny me and many other Australians a marriage certificate will instead license hate speech to those who need little encouragement,” she said.

“Mr Turnbull, and many commentators on this subject, don’t understand that for gay and lesbian Australians hate speech is not abstract. It’s real. It’s part of our everyday life.”

In the annual Lionel Murphy Memorial Lecture this week, Senator Wong (pictured) said it was not just hate speech directed at LGBTI people, but physical violence that still occurred in Australia today.

“Many same-sex couples don’t hold hands on the street because they don’t know what reaction they’ll get. Some hide who they are for fear of the consequences at home, at work, at school,” she said.

“Not one straight politician advocating a plebiscite on marriage equality knows what that is like. What it is like to live with the casual and deliberate prejudice that some still harbour.”

Treasurer Scott Morrison countered that some people of very strong religious views had already been subject to “quite dreadful hate speech and bigotry” as a result of the debate.

He said he had also endured bigotry from advocates of same-sex marriage who disliked his stance against change.

“I understand the concern that Penny is raising … I know it from personal experience, having been exposed to that hatred and bigotry for the views I’ve taken from others who have a different view to me,” Mr Morrison said.

“Frankly, people of very strong religious views have been subject to quite dreadful hate speech and bigotry as well, it’s not confined to one side of the debate.”

Supporters will take to the streets this weekend to rally for marriage equality in Brisbane, Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra. The Brisbane rally will begin at 1pm in Queens Park.

The government has budgeted $160 million for a plebiscite which, if the Coalition is re-elected, would more than likely be held later this year.

Labor, if elected, has promised a vote in Federal Parliament to legalise same-sex marriage within its first 100 days of winning office.

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