Saturday, 13 December 2008

Times: Never mind the persecution
Friday, 12th December 2008 by Dr. Harry Vassallo

Malta, along with all other EU member states, is a signatory to a draft political declaration to be brought by France before the General Assemby of the United Nations calling for the depenalisation of homosexuality worldwide. Even if adopted by the General Assembly, such a declaration, on which no vote will be taken, will bind only its signatories. Still, it is a laudable global publication of the stance taken by these countries. Well done, Malta.

Decades ago, homosexuality stopped being a criminal offence in Malta. The matter was and remains a taboo for the vast majority but few would have the police investigate anybody's sexual preferences and much less haul them before a magistrate for it.

Even today, the annual Gay Pride event is poorly attended and, to a great extent, by liberal heterosexuals. Decriminalisation and all, the taboo is alive and well. Fear of discrimination, rationalised in various ways, still keeps most gays away from their own celebration. More significantly, it is still the cause of unnecessary personal trauma, family crises and, greatest taboo of all, suicides.

Despite our new status as an ostentatiously liberal nation, thanks to participation in the proposed UN declaration, our first gay and out candidate in a national election contesting with Alternattiva Demokratika, Patrick Attard, made history as recently as last March. We are still far from being comfortable with LGBT reality.

What may cause our governent more than the usual discomfort is the contrast with the position taken by the Vatican on the proposed declaration. Its permanent observer at the UN, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, has achieved global notoriety for his stance opposing the declaration. The gay and liberal worlds are up in arms.

In a comment to the French news agency I.Media, Archbishop Migliore premised that all that is done in favour of the respect and protection of individuals is part of our human and spiritual heritage; that the catechism of the Catholic Church affirms that every unjust form of discrimination against homosexuals must be avoided. But he went on to add that "such a declaration would require states and international structures applying and monitoring human rights to add new categories requiring protection against discrimination without taking account of the fact that, if adopted, this would create new and terrible discriminations. For example, states which do not recognise same-sex unions as marriage would be pilloried and come under pressure."

All this puts our government in a very peculiar position. Malta is one of the states that does not recognise same-sex unions.

Does our government see any danger of being pilloried or pressured in future because it opposes the persecution of gays wherever it may take place?

Clearly not. Malta is one of the proponents of the controverted declaration.

The sensation caused by the Vatican's response is due to the inescapable fact that the Vatican, in order not to allow even the remotest possibility of gay marriage appearing over the horizon some time in the future, is prepared to ignore the actual and very real persecution of gays in many countries of the world where they are punished by beatings and even capital punishment. The most barbaric of public executions still take place today.

For Malta, the matter is a little more complicated. A government monopolised by a party that traditionally monopolises the Catholic faith is on a direct collision course with the Vatican. For many Maltese Catholics, as for Catholics around the world, the matter is one of dismay if not bewilderment. How can we defend or make our own the position taken by Archbishop Migliore? Can any of us witness the beheading or hanging of a gay person because he is gay, even on television or through the internet, and remain unmoved? Even if we may be averse to the recognition of same-sex unions we could not fail to condemn such persecution when asked to do so.

As a proponent with no fear of the consequences, the Maltese government, having the responsibility for a country more Catholic than the Vatican, should be able to make a very good case for a Vatican change of heart. If the Vatican's misgivings about gay marriage are allayed, it must live up to its words in favour of human dignity.

It is far more probable that Malta will lie low, ignore the contradictions, miss the opportunity to shine and hope that it will all blow over soon. Ironically, it will be the same attitude as that of those Maltese gays who experience the same mild irritation as they decline the invitation to the annual Gay Pride march. Doing nothing changes nothing and remains the easiest way out. Never mind the killings. Never mind the suicides.

Dr Vassallo is a committee member of the European Green Party.

[To read the comments on this article, click on the hyperlink at the top of the article]

No comments:

Post a Comment