The Israeli Knesset is set to consider granting gay and lesbian couples the right to marry.

Journalist-turned-politician Nitzan Horowitz of the Jewish left-leaning Meretz party has proposed a gay marriage bill on the first day of the new Knesset, reports Haaretz Newspaper.

Horowitz's bill is a response to the Yisrael Beitenu Party-backed bill that would create unions regardless of religion or ethnic background. Horowitz's bill goes further by adding a gender neutral clause.

Israel is one of a handful of countries that does not offer civil marriages. Only religious authorities can sanction a marriage.

“In 2009 Israel, there is no reason we should have to force people to get married on the steps of the rabbinate or on the steps of a city hall,” Horowitz said in a statement introducing his bill.

Being gay is illegal throughout much of the Middle East, where many societies remain rabidly homophobic, but gays and lesbians have steadily won rights in Israel. Gay couples are considered “married” through common law marriages, but there is no official matrimony. The Israeli military allows open service and gay couples have access to adoption.

Openly gay Meretz MK Horowitz, whose journalism career began with radio reporting on the 1982 Lebanon war and ended producing social issue documentaries for television, said the Yisrael Beitenu plan would define marriage solely as a heterosexual union.

“Approving Yisrael Beitenu's civil unions would prevent the recognition of couples of the same sex,” Horowitz wrote in a blog post. “In recent years, couples of the same sex have gained wide legal recognition involving matrimonial aspects of life, but if Yisrael Beitenu's bill passes, tens of thousands of couples of the same sex will be discriminated against in a severe way.”

But the viability of the bill remains in question. The Meretz Party holds only 3 of the 120 Knesset seats. And opposition to the heterosexual-only Yisrael Beitenu bill remains strong.

Horowitz is the second openly gay Knesset member in Israeli history. Former Meretz MK Uzi Even was the first.

Only six countries allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. Sweden is likely to become the seventh in May.