Lawmaker proposes during Australian same-sex marriage debate

In this combination of images made video from Australia's Parliament TV, Australian lawmaker Tim Wilson, right, proposes to his gay partner Ryan Patrick Bolger, who was sitting in the public gallery, at Parliament in Canberra, Australia, Monday, Dec. 4, 2017. Wilson was giving a speech on same-sex marriage and proposed to Bolger during Parliament's debate on a bill that is expected to soon legalize marriage equality across the country. (Parliament TV via AP)

CANBERRA, Australia — An Australian lawmaker giving a speech on same-sex marriage proposed to his gay partner Monday during Parliament's debate on a bill that is expected to soon legalize marriage equality across the country.

Tim Wilson, a 37-year-old lawmaker in the conservative coalition government, was among the first lawmakers to join the House of Representatives debate and toward the end of his speech popped the question to his partner of seven years 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, and they are the answer to a question we cannot ask," an emotional Wilson said, referring to the first time he addressed the Parliament last year.

"There's only one thing left to do: Ryan Patrick Bolger, will you marry me?" Wilson added to applause.

The 33-year-old primary school teacher responded "yes," which was recorded in the official parliamentary record.

The House of Representatives is holding its final two-week session of the year, which is giving priority to lifting the ban on same-sex marriage ion Australia. The major parties want the legislation passed this week after a majority of Australian's endorsed change 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.

Turnbull told Parliament that while nothing in the bill threatened religious freedoms, he wanted more reassurances for the millions of Australians who oppose marriage equality.

"We must not fail to recognize that there is sincere, heartfelt anxiety about the bill's impact on religious freedom," Turnbull said.

"That is why I will support several amendments to the bill which will provide that additional reassurance in respect of their fundamental rights and freedoms," he added.

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," he added.

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 percent of Australian respondents wanted gay marriage to be legal. Almost 80 percent 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 change.

While marriage equality could become law this week, state marriage registries say they would not have the paperwork to proceed with weddings until January.

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