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MP proposes to partner during same-sex marriage debate


The first time Tim Wilson proposed to his partner, someone asked the Liberal MP: Why bother?

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This time around, he hopes for a better response.

The long-time same-sex marriage advocate put the question again on the floor of federal parliament: “Will you marry me?”

“Yes!” was the response from Ryan Bolger, sitting in the gallery, perhaps the first to be recorded in parliament’s official record of proceedings.

It followed an emotional speech during debate on a private bill to legalise same-sex marriage, which Wilson helped draft.

He recalled the day when he first proposed as the sun rose over One Tree Hill on Hamilton Island.

“I gave you the ring on our left hand and said ‘I don’t know what this ring represents or means, but will you take it as a sign of my commitment,” he told MPs.

“Thankfully, the answer was yes.”

But, through tears, he spoke of the “bittersweetness” in the days that followed.

Friends and family were happy with them and for them, but others simply didn’t know how to react.

Many text messages went unresponded to, while some people politely changed the topic or fell silent in conversation.

His partner Ryan kept pushing for an engagement party, but Wilson was hesitant.

“The truth was I kept delaying it, perhaps wrongly, because the strong message I took from so many people’s silence response was no-one would come,” he said.

“On informing one person of our news they responded: “Why bother?”

“At the time I fell silent and I’ve never had an answer to that question, but the Australian people have now answered it for me.”

Nearly 80 MPs are slated to speak on the legislation over coming days, with a final vote expected before Thursday, when parliament is scheduled to rise for the year.

Speaking on the bill, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declared it was time for Australia to legalise same-sex marriage after a long and arduous road “littered with injustices”.

The prime minister hailed it a “momentous social reform”.

“It’s time for us to get on with it,” he told parliament on Monday.

“The Australian people have said yes to marriage equality, yes to fairness, yes to commitment, yes to love.”

Turnbull credited the Coalition for initiating the change, labelling the postal survey – and the almost 80 per cent response rate – one of the most remarkable political events in his lifetime.

“To same-sex couples in Australia, you are equal, you are respected, you are loved,” he said.

In a largely light-hearted speech, Turnbull rejected claims allowing same-sex couples to marry was a threat to traditional marriage, including his own.

Australia would be a stronger society if more people were legally married and fewer were divorced, he said.

“If we believe two gay people are better off together than living alone comforted only by their respective cats, then why should we deprive that relationship of equal recognition?”

Turnbull doesn’t believe the bill before parliament – drafted by Liberal senator Dean Smith – threatened religious freedoms, however, he expressed support for amendments which will reassure and “respect these fundamental rights”.

“There is nothing in the bill which prevents anyone from maintaining or adhering to the teaching of their church on marriage or morality, but we must not fail to recognise that there is sincere heartfelt anxiety about the bill’s impact on religious freedom,” the prime minister said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten asked gay and lesbian Australians to forgive politicians for years of disappointment and delays on the issue.

He told parliament a vote was “long overdue” as lower house MPs began debating a private bill passed in the Senate last week.

“It is a chance to atone for the inaction and failures of the past,” Shorten said.

“Today belongs to all the LGBTIQ Australians who have borne the burden of a long battle for equality. We seek your forgiveness, we salute your courage and we thank you for including us in your historic moment.”

Veteran Liberal MP Warren Entsch, who helped draft the bill, kicked off proceedings with a stern warning to his colleagues who want to stall its passage.

Australians were sick of excuses and delays, he said, noting he would oppose any amendments that sought to unwind or remove any legal rights or protections against discrimination.

“This bill will take from no-one. It simply makes a nation a kinder and fairer place,” Entsch, wearing a rainbow tie, said.

“Delaying equality for every Australian, whether they be from Bundaberg or Fremantle, is simply not good enough.”

Gay Liberal MP Trevor Evans, who also helped draft the laws, echoed his sentiments, saying democracy doesn’t mean we always get what we want.

“It means that we respect the result,” he said.

“This is a bill that finds a good balance between the need to protect important religious freedoms, while still implementing the clear will of the Australian people to change the marriage act to allow same-sex couples to marry.”

Smith was joined by Attorney-General George Brandis and cabinet minister Simon Birmingham in the chamber to watch the start of the debate, as were Labor’s Penny Wong and Louise Pratt.

more to come


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