Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called for respectful campaigning on same-sex marriage and urged Australians to support each other during the debate on the issue.
Graphic anti-gay posters and pamphlets denigrating LGBTI people were reportedly spotted last weekend in Melbourne and Sydney.
In a heated interview on Tuesday, 2DayFM host Em Rusciano told Mr Turnbull his requests for a respectful debate on the issue were “in the toilet” and she pressed him about the upcoming same-sex marriage survey’s role in “emboldening people who are anti-homosexual to say some awful things.”
Turnbull said people in any democratic debate were likely to say things that are “hurtful, unfair and sometimes cruel”.
“Our society, the most successful multicultural society in the world, is built on a foundation of mutual respect. I deplore disrespectful language, whether it is directed at young gay people or religious people or people of other races,” he told the radio station.
Mr Turnbull said instead of “shutting down free speech,” Australians should respond by supporting friends and loved ones who are distressed “at this challenging time” and told LGBTI Australians to “be proud of yourselves.”
“If you have friends, whether they are young people or old people, who feel threatened and a bit shook up by a debate like this, this is a time to put your arms around them and give them your love and support,” he said.
“Social change takes time, it takes debate and discussion, and you should not be distracted by a handful of extreme posters or flyers.
“The vast majority of people who do not agree with same-sex marriage, who have perhaps very conservative views, they are not homophobic. They do not denigrate people.
“Once of the problems in this debate is the tendency to caricature each side. The vast majority of people involved in this debate – and of course the vast majority of Australians, 99.99 per cent – are very respectful of each other.”
Mr Turnbull said he would vote “yes” in the survey and said a bill to legalise same-sex marriage would “sail through the Parliament” if a majority of Australians backed it through next month’s survey.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten also took to Facebook to slam the “abusive” posters.
“Labor opposed this postal survey because we feared exactly this kind of hurtful filth would emerge,” he wrote on Facebook.
“This kind of garbage isn’t ‘debate’, it’s abuse. I’m so sorry that LGBTI Australians have to put up with it. Let’s make sure there’s an overwhelming ‘Yes’ vote in response.”