CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s Parliament on Monday started debating a bill that could soon legalize gay marriage across the country, with one lawmaker taking the opportunity to propose to his gay partner.
The House of Representatives resumed on Monday for its final two-week session of the year, which is giving priority to achieving same-sex marriage reform. The major parties want the legislation passed this week after a majority of Australian’s endorsed reform in a postal ballot last month.
The Senate last week approved the bill and rejected all proposed amendments that would have increased legal protections for those who would discriminate against gay couples on religious grounds.
But several lawmakers including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull intend to persist with amendments rejected by the Senate.
Turnbull, a gay marriage supporter, says he wants wedding celebrants, not just those affiliated with churches, to have the right to refuse to officiate at same-sex marriages.
If the House of Representatives supported such an amendment, then the altered bill would have to return to the Senate for ratification, delaying the reform.
Tim Wilson, a lawmaker in the conservative coalition, was among the first lawmakers to join the debate and used his speech to propose to his partner Ryan Bolger, who was watching from the public gallery.
“In my first speech I defined our bond by the ring that sits on both of our left hands,” Wilson said. “There’s only one thing left to do: Ryan Patrick Bolger, will you marry me?”
The 33-year-old primary school teacher responded: “yes,” which was recorded in the official parliamentary record.
Warren Entsch, a long-term advocate of marriage equality within the conservative government, helped draft the bill and was the first to speak for it in the House on Monday.
“The bill which the Senate passed is a robust bill, a whole range of religious protections are already in place,” Entsch said in introducing the bill.
“We have made sure that we have removed any element of discrimination in this bill while ensuring that religious freedoms are protected.”
Entsch said related amendments to bolster freedoms of speech and education rights could be debated in a separate bill next year and should not be sued to delay the reform.
“Australians are sick of excuses and they’re sick of delays,” Entsch said.
A nonbinding postal survey found that 62 per cent of Australian respondents wanted reform. Almost 80 per cent of Australia’s registered voters took part in the two-month survey. Most gay marriage opponents accept that the Parliament has an overwhelming mandate to make the reform.
While marriage equality could become law this week, state marriage registries say they would not have the paperwork to proceed with weddings until January.