The Macquarie University Liberal Club’s marriage equality debate has descended into chaos, after a group of three students took control of the room.
The debate began in a civil manner, with the format being that each speaker would receive 10 minutes of speaking time followed up by 5 minutes of rebuttal time, then the floor would be open for questions.
The speaker representing the yes side, Paul Ritchie, had finished his opening argument, which focused the individual benefits of extending the right to marriage to gay Australians in terms of greater financial security and health.
No representative Dr Jeremy Bell was wrapping up his own initial speech – which focused on the biological difference between heterosexual and same sex unions – when a student started rebutting Bell’s arguments and accusing the professor of homophobia.
The student and their two companions swiftly took control of the room, asking Dr Bell if he supported safe schools, as his argument was based around the creation and care of children, and HIV/AIDs research. Dr Bell was unable to respond as multiple attendees began shouting, most showing exasperation at the three attendees’ refusal to be silent.
Over the next 40 minutes, Dr Bell and Ritchie were able to cut in occasionally, but mostly they sat quietly as tempers flared and various attendees argued with the three protesting the event.
The debate was not able to resume as planned as three security guards tried unsuccessfully to escort the protestors outside.
Audio recorded by Grapeshot has captured heated argument between a woman who eventually stormed out and the three students in question. Further on in the clip Paul Ritchie – a former speechwriter for Tony Abbott and author of Faith, Love and Australia: The Conservative Case for Same-Sex Marriage – stands up and tries to appeal for respect.
The three students who spoke up at the event have told Grapeshot that they believe it is indefensible to vote ‘no’, and that they were exercising their right to free speech in intervening in the Liberal Club’s debate. Alex, one of the protesting students, provided a combined comment, which stated:
‘The Liberal club has a history of vilifying queer people, and has previous or current office bearers who’ve variously compared queer people to pedophiles, have threatened students, threatened to shit in the queer space, and intimidated women. Their behaviour is funded by us, the students, and we have the right to call them out for their behaviour.’
Alex says that they were protesting Dr Jeremy Bell’s views, which includes ‘ideas that push queer youth into self-harm’. Bell stated during the debate that he regarded homosexual activity as sinful.
James Lu, Vice President (Debates) from the Macquarie University Liberal Club has said: ‘We are grateful that the University has been supportive in the running of this event and for students to be able to practice free speech on campus. Thank you to the majority of students who attended and were respectful to both speakers. Sadly, the event was hijacked by a couple of students who were clear their intention was to shut down the debate and silence free speech.’
The Queer Collective has distanced themselves from the event, saying that the protest was not a Collective action.
GLBT rep on the SRC, Paul Russell, has told Grapeshot that an informal agreement had been reached between certain members of the Queer Collective, MQ Labor, and the Women’s Collective to boycott the event rather than attend.
Grapeshot is awaiting comment from the university.
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