A Rugby World Cup final referee has called for respect in the wake of the homophobia issues that have hit the sport.
Nigel Owens added that rugby is an inclusive sport and that “that is the important message”.
Australian rugby star Israel Folau caused controversy last week with homophobic comments on social media.
A message published on Folau’s Instagram account on Wednesday read that “hell awaits” for “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolators.”
Folau was warned last year, but avoided any disciplinary action, for making homophobic comments on his social media channels.
Rugby Australia served the player with a breach notice, pressing ahead with plans to terminate his contract. Folau has since requested a code of conduct hearing.
England forward Billy Vunipola was given a formal warning by both the RFU and his club Saracens in relation to the controversy.
The No 8 showed support for Folau’s post and on his own Instagram account wrote that “Man was made for woman to pro create that was the goal no?”
However, he added that “I don’t HATE anyone”.
Owens, who is gay, has called for people like Folau to respect who he is.
Speaking on Jim White’s TalkSport radio programme, he said: “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, on his political views…”
“Just judge somebody on the decent person that they are.
“And just realise that, as I said earlier, there are some things in life you can choose, sexuality is not one of them.
“And I respect people who were brought up with religious beliefs and some who are entrenched and will follow those beliefs no matter how narrow-minded they may be to the rest of us, but that is their belief.
“I understand that and I respect that. But I would also like them to understand and respect that this is who I am.
“And I am glad that rugby has allowed me to be who I am and that rugby is an inclusive sport for everybody involved in it.
“And that I think that is the important message from the huge, huge majority of people out there in rugby.
Owens added that it will not make a difference who he referees.
“I will referee the game that is in front of me and I will treat every player on that field with respect.
“I have referred those players [Folau and Vunipola] in the past and they have treated me with respect every time.”
When asked if he still respected the Australian player, Owens said: “I respect that somebody has the right to have that opinion.
“I don’t agree with the opinion.
“Although everybody has a right to have his view, you then have to understand that there consequences when you express a view that can be very, very hurtful to a lot of people.”
Speaking earlier this month at the launch of the 2019 Union Cup, Europe’s biggest LGBT+ inclusive rugby tournament, Owens said he had been scared to come out in the world of rugby.
“I honestly thought I would have to choose; either to live my life as a gay man which might mean giving up rugby, or continue to referee rugby but live my life as a lie,” he said, as reported in the Irish Examiner.
“I honestly thought I would have to make that decision but thankfully I didn’t. Nobody should have to make that choice, in any sport or any industry.
“There is unfortunately still a minority of people out there who make it difficult for people to be themselves.”