An Australian Senator who compared legalising gay marriage to allowing polygamy and bestiality withdrew at the last minute from a speaking engagement last week at St Hugh’s.
Cory Bernardi, who was forced to resign as parliamentary secretary to the opposition party leader owing to his statements, was scheduled to speak at the European Young Conservative Freedom Summit but cancelled at the last moment, claiming, ‘I contacted the organisers yesterday to say that my attendance at their conference had become a distraction.”
He added, “I had intended to talk about Australia and the Commonwealth, but that message would be lost, and I don’t want to drag an unrelated issue into this important conference.”
Bernardi, who came under criticism earlier this year for making “anti-Muslim” statements, has not apologised for the speech he made in Parliament in which he stated, “The next step [to legalising gay marriage] is having three people that love each other be able to enter into a permanent union endorsed by society, or four people. There are even some creepy people out there, who say that it’s OK to have consensual sexual relations between humans and animals.”
Prior to Bernardi’s withdrawal from the conference, the organiser of the summit and chairman of Conservative Future, Ben Howlett, asserted, “As someone who has attended dozens of pride marches across the UK, I condemn his comments.”
Bernardi withdrew from the engagement the next day via a statement issued by summit organisers.
St Hugh’s JCR Vice President, Andrew Wilson told Cherwell the JCR Committee were “very happy that Mr Bernardi took the correct decision and did not address the EYC Freedom Summit after he expressed some frankly unacceptable opinions about homosexual marriage.”
OUSU President David Townsend agreed, saying, “Oxford is better off without the Senator’s presence, as his ability to contribute to intelligent debate is undermined by his inability to distinguish between on the one hand, two loving human beings committing to share their lives together, and on the other, a man having sex with a sheep.”
Simone Webb, President of Oxford University LGBTQsoc, said that although they “would have offered support to any students who felt threatened or upset by [Bernardi’s] comments”, they would not have protested the speaking engagement as the society is “non-political”.
She added, “On a personal level, I do not object to St Hugh’s allowing homophobic speakers; bad arguments, such as those which use the slippery slope fallacy, should be aired so they can be rejected.”
St Hugh’s LGBTQ rep Michael Holloway told Cherwell he “brought the issue to the attention of our JCR committee on Monday” and although he declined to comment on the behaviour of the college, he stated, “The LGBTQ community within college is very strong, and we do not condone the comments made by Mr Bernardi.”
This is not the first time a conference or speaker has caused controversy in Oxford in recent years. After last year’s protests and petition sparked by Exeter hosting a conference of a reportedly anti-gay Christian group, the college reviewed its vetting measures for conference events and donated the proceeds from that conference to an LGBTQ charity.
Owen Alun John, the LMH student who was first to raise concerns over Exeter’s conference, claimed, “Oxford still lacks a university-wide policy excluding hate preachers from its premises. As long as this continues, individuals like Mr. Bernardi will keep on coming.
“Oxford should stop running itself like some kind of lads’ holiday, where what happens in the vacation stays in the vacation. If colleges continue selling out to homophobes, hate groups and religious extremists, this is the business of every student whose education they were established to provide.”
Oxford Conservative Association were quick to distance themselves from Bernardi with President George Mawhinney stating, “His comments were rightly condemned by the Party and Conservative Future. The views of this Australian politician do not reflect the Association’s in any way.”St Hugh’s were unavailable for comment when contacted.