Nigel Owens says that Israel Folau and Billy Vunipola have to understand that there will be consequences when they express homophobic views.
Folau is awaiting a date for a code of conduct hearing after Rugby Australia earlier this week initiated proceedings to cancel his contract. The 30-year-old said in a social media post that "hell awaits" gay people.
Saracens and England backrow Vunipola liked Folau's post and also posted himself that, "Man was made for woman to pro create that was the goal no?" He has since received a formal warning from the RFU.
"I think you should judge people on the person that he is, not on the colour of his skin, not on his sexual orientation, not on his religious beliefs or political views," said rugby referee Owens in an interview with Talksport.
Just judge a person on the decent person that they are.
There are some things in life that you can choose - your sexuality is not one of them.
I respect people who are brought up with religious beliefs, and some who are entrenched and will follow those religious beliefs, no matter how narrow minded they may be to the rest of us
But that is their beliefs and I understand that and respect that. But I'd also like him to understand and respect that this is who I am, and I'm glad rugby has allowed me to be who I am.
Rugby is an inclusive sport for everybody involved in it and I think that is the important message from the huge, huge majority of people out there in rugby.
It won't make a difference to me who I will referee. I will referee the game that is in front of me and I will treat every player on that field with respect.
I've refereed those players (Vunipola and Folau) in the past and they've treated me with respect every time.
Asked if he still respects Folau, Owens, who is gay, said:
"I respect someone has the right to have that opinion.
"I don't agree with the opinion. Although everyone has the right to have his view, you then have to understand the consequences when you express the view that can be very, very hurtful to a lot of people.
"When people do cross that line of what is acceptable and what is not - particularly within the position of influence - then you have to take responsibility, I believe, for your actions.
"I don't judge people. I have a job to do on the field and I will just referee what's in front of me and treat everyone on that field the same.
"That is all I need to do as a referee and that is all that I will ever do."
“I respect people with religious beliefs, I’d like them to respect who I am.”
“Rugby is an inclusive support that has allowed me to be who I am.” 🏉@NigelRefOwens on Israel Folau, Billy Vunipola and homophobia in rugby. pic.twitter.com/4rHt1pS2EV
— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) April 17, 2019
Picture credits: Sportsfile