Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Times: Maltese MEPs say 'yes' to cohabitation and gay couple laws

Sunday, 1st February 2009 by Ivan Camilleri, Brussels

Two Nationalist MEPs have voted in favour of amendments recognising the need for laws on cohabitation, including those of gay couples, and the recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other EU member states.

This vote at the European Parliament was part of a non-binding resolution to harmonise fundamental EU human rights' laws and shows a marked shift in the position of the five Maltese MEPs.

This comes two weeks after the five MEPs opposed the final vote on the resolution moved by Italian communist MEP Giusto Catania, particularly due to a reference to abortion rights.

However, an analysis of the voting patterns on the amendments put forward to the resolution, shows Malta's representatives in Brussels are in favour of legislation on the rights of cohabiting partners.

Nationalist MEPs Simon Busuttil and David Casa voted 'yes' to the amendments. However, the vote of Labour MEPs appears to be mired in ambiguity.

While John Attard Montalto voted in favour, Glenn Bedingfield abstained and Louis Grech did not cast his vote. However, this vague Labour position was the result of a "misunderstanding", according to Mr Grech, Labour's head of delegation.

Admitting the inconsistent voting pattern, Mr Grech clarified that this was only a result of the ambiguous wording of the amendments "which gave rise to different interpretations" by the three Labour MEPs.

He stressed that all Labour MEPs are in favour of having Maltese legislation regulating cohabitation and gay partnerships.

"We feel that discussion and action on the concept of civil partnership is long overdue. Our delegation believes it is high time to legislate civil partnership, which is open to all couples, and which will address and rectify anomalies, injustices and hardships, resulting from the absence of proper and adequate legislation,"he said.

The big surprise vote on this issue was from the Nationalist side. Traditionally, the PN - a party rooted in Christian Democratic values - preferred to stay away from these hot social issues.

However, according to Dr Busuttil, it is time these issues are addressed: "Through our vote we wanted to show that we support efforts to eliminate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and we felt that we needed to reflect this in our vote."

"We are in favour of laws on cohabitation, including those for same-sex couples. This would regulate same-sex partnerships only, and not marriages," he told The Sunday Times.

"Our position is that once we introduce cohabitation and once we already recognise divorces granted in other countries, there is nothing wrong in recognising same-sex marriages as well."

Dr Busuttil's and Mr Casa's move is in line with promises made by the PN before last March's general election to legislate on cohabitation, including same-sex couples.

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