Top test referee Nigel Owens, who revealed he was gay 12 years ago, says Israel Folau's social media rants are "very, very hurtful".

Owens was interviewed by Britain's talkSPORT on the Folau controversy, and the support the Wallaby star has received form England No. 8 Billy Vunipola.

Folau faces having his Australian contract torn up, while Vunipola has been warned by England and his club Saracens.

Welsh whistler Owens said people like Folau had to understand the influence they held. He said people should be judged on who they were, not the colour of their skin, sexual orientation, religious beliefs or political views.

Advertisement

"Just judge a person on the decent person that they are," Owens said.

"There are some things in life that you can choose and your sexuality is not one of them.

READ MORE:
Rugby lifeline for disgraced Israel Folau - report
'Serious error': International rugby star dragged into Folau fallout
'He's missing one piece of the jigsaw' - Steve Hansen speaks out on Folau

"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."

Owens said the controversy would not affect the way he referee players such as Folau and Vunipola.

"I will referee the game that is in front of me and I will treat every player on that field with respect," he said.

"I've refereed those players (Vunipola and Folau) in the past and they've treated me with respect."

Owens said he respects "someone has the right to have that opinion."

"I don't agree with the opinion," he said.

"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 in that is acceptable and 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.

"I think it's hugely important that rugby maintains that value and ethos of respect."