Monday, 7 July 2008

Malta Today: Full equality for gays
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6.7.8 Evarist Bartolo

As a Labour Party we are failing to live up to our tradition of being the party that introduces liberal social reforms in Malta. We are seen as being too similar to the PN and not offering any alternative to the increasing number of people who want our society to open up and become more liberal like some of the more socially progressive countries in the European Union.

There are citizens amongst us who are still deprived of the rights that the rest of us enjoy. Before the General Elections of 8th March 2008, the Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM) requested all political parties to commit themselves to legalise the rights of same-sex couples, to make violence against homosexuals a criminal offence, to address bullying against gays in schools, to prohibit discrimination in the delivery of goods and services on the grounds of sexual orientation, to extend the remit of the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality to cater for the grounds of sexual orientation and to include gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy for transgender persons as part of the public health services.

At the top of their priorities MGRM put the formal recognition of the rights of same-sex couples. MGRM says that “many gay and lesbian people are already in same-sex relationships that are equivalent to heterosexual relationships in essential respects. Marriage has symbolic meaning and is an important social institution. Also significant are the many concrete legal protections that marriage provides.”

MGRM also holds that same-sex life partners in long-term, committed relationships lack the rights, benefits and duties that opposite-sex married couples automatically receive. By preventing the legal recognition of same-sex partners the state thrusts their families into legal limbo and excludes these couples and their children from full membership in society.”

MGRM are right in stating that “any government which aims for an inclusive and just society has the duty and obligation to address discrimination based on prejudice.”

We are still lagging behind many other members of the European Union (EU) in this area. A report released last Tuesday by the EU's Agency for Fundamental Rights concludes that while lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people have broad legal protections in many of the countries in the EU, Malta is one of seven nations that protect against discrimination only in employment and need to expand that to other aspects of life. Malta also needs to prohibit antigay discrimination in such areas as housing and access to goods and services. The agency also urged Malta to offer same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual married couples. In Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain gay couples have equal marriage rights while several other EU nations offer gays some form of registered partnership.

The EU agency also criticizes Malta for having no "equality body" to handle complaints related to antigay discrimination. The agency also said transgender people are especially in need of antidiscrimination protections, and further called for better application of existing laws covering hate speech and hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens. We should all agree with the director of the agency Morton Kjaerum when he says: "Equal treatment is a fundamental right that all members of our society should enjoy."

Just over three years ago when the Spanish parliament took its historic vote legalizing both gay marriage and adoption of children by gay couples, Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, gave a memorable speech in favour of full equality for gays: "It is true that they are only a minority, but their triumph is everyone's triumph. It is also the triumph of those who oppose this law, even though they do not know this yet: because it is the triumph of Liberty. Their victory makes all of us (even those who oppose the law) better people, it makes our society better. There is no damage to marriage or to the concept of family in allowing two people of the same sex to get married. To the contrary, what happens is that this class of Spanish citizens gets the potential to organize their lives with the rights and privileges of marriage and family. Like other reforms to the marriage code that preceded this one, this law will generate no evil, that its only consequence will be the avoiding of senseless suffering of decent human beings. A society that avoids senseless suffering of decent human beings is a better society.”

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