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Australian MP proposes to partner during gay marriage debate

A politician proposed to his partner during a debate on a bill which could soon legalise same-sex marriage in Australia.

The country's 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 Australians endorsed reform in a postal ballot last month.

Last week the Senate 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 politicians, including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, intend to persist with amendments rejected by the Senate.

Mr 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.

Mr Turnbull later told Parliament that nothing in the bill threatened religious freedoms.

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

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, who is part of the conservative coalition, was among the first politicians 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," Mr 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," Mr Entsch said as he introduced the bill.

"We have made sure that we have removed any element of discrimination in this bill while ensuring that religious freedoms are protected."

Mr 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 used to delay the reform.

"Australians are sick of excuses and they're sick of delays," Mr Entsch said.

A nonbinding postal survey found that 62% of Australian respondents wanted reform.

Almost 80% of Australia's registered voters took part in the two-month survey. While marriage equality could become law this week, state marriage registries say they would not have the paperwork to proceed with weddings until January.

AP

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