Friday, 24 April 2009

Independent: Bioethics and the family
22.4.9 by Prof. Pierre Mallia

The Parliamentary Committee for Social Affairs has reviewed the position of the Church in an interesting and widely publicised intervention by Rev. Prof. Emanuel Agius. With regard to reproductive technologies it was pointed out that both documents of the Church referring to this subject, the older Donum Vitae (Gift of Life) of 1987, and the latest Dignitas Personae (The Dignity of all men), of 2008, have expressed concerns about some methods of reproductive technologies which involve the use of third parties (be they donors or the use of a laboratory) and, in particular, both express the protection of the family.

While in Malta things have started to change drastically, the family unit still plays a major role in our social fabric. When one works abroad, things can be quite different in health care, with families, or partnerships, as they are called, not formed in the traditional manner. Indeed it is perhaps one arm of liberty to challenge tradition. Local doctors have to face these situations and cannot be put in a position (or should not adopt a position) of paternalistically imposing on patients, or deciding who should take certain procedures and who should not.

The best way to illustrate the changes is by relating some case histories which perhaps have become common in our society with regard to the family. The names are fictitious, but not the cases themselves. They are however common enough to avoid infringement of privacy.

Case 1

Sharon is living with a partner and is infertile. She suffers from endometriosis, which produces infertility, but which paradoxically cures the endometriosis during a period of eventual pregnancy. Due to her hormonal condition she is also obese, which was the reason given by her first husband for leaving her, although they had been together for several years before they married. The marriage lasted only a few months. She is now in a stable relationship with her partner and they have been living together for some years. It would seem that she would qualify for an annulment, which has not yet been forthcoming. The partner is not married. They wish to have children through Invitro Fertilisation, the only method which seems will work for them, following specialist advice.

Case 2

Claire is a 32-year-old woman, separated, with five children, the eldest being 14 years of age. Her husband left her for another woman about two years ago and he does not give her alimony regularly, causing her several social problems. After a consultation discussing the difficulty she finds with raising these children she confirms that she would still like to form another stable relationship as she is still young. Her case for an annulment however seems bleak and although there is no doubt about her fertility, she said she would not mind having another child with a potential future husband as she feels that this is an expression of love. She casually mentions she is getting older and would even consider using the available technologies and medical help to succeed. Having a child with a partner seems very important.

Case 3

Mario has known since childhood that he was gay. He has three sisters and has grown up in an environment in which a fetish to wear his sister’s clothes has developed into him having a feminine personality. His parents, after several months of anxiety when he ‘came out’ have accepted the situation and keep a portrait picture of him in the living area, in which he is dressed in girls’ clothes. Indeed no one would be able to tell him from the picture. During the week he dresses up normally but his mannerism is effeminate. He says that ‘sometimes’ he goes out dressed as a girl. After a consultation for a common cold he speaks to me about an article he has read where men can be considered to have children biologically. He then changes the subject to the potential of using a surrogate mother to have a child.

Case 4

A couple are attending the reproductive clinic and come to the doctor to explain the options they were given. The husband was found to have a very low sperm count. The wife, whose personality seemed predominant on the husband, showed clearly she understood the process and stated that, “in the last resort they can refer us abroad to mix my husband’s sperm with that of a donor and inseminate me with the mixture”. The husband, at this, seemed to fold his shoulders and retire slightly into a metaphorical shell. When questioned he showed that it would only be a last resort. The doctor could tell he was uncomfortable with this.

Although these scenarios show specific issues related to the case, perhaps teasing out the generalities is important. In the first case we have a woman who has a case for an annulment, which is still forthcoming, but who is infertile and needs IVF. In the second case we have a woman who probably will not get an annulment but wishes, since she is young, to have another stable union and considers the use of technology to have children, even though she already has five. In the third, we have a scenario which has created much controversy: homosexual unions and whether they have a right to children, not to mention the issue of surrogacy. The family in the fourth case certainly need counselling to understand each other and shows how much it would be a violation to the family if counselling were not legislated for.

The questions are whether these cases challenge our traditional concept of the family, and deeper still whether this change in perception of families will cause a disruption of the social fabric. While the latter is quite unlikely in the short term, the former is quite possible. Moral documents such as Donum Vitae and Dignitas Personae ask governments to consider the concept of the family when legislating on biotechnology laws. If we look at Western societies it does not seem as yet that the family unit has been disrupted and it seems in human nature to succeed quite well, as related in Barack Obama’s pre-election semi-biography. Conversely there is no doubt that the family is certainly challenged and that new concepts of families – such as single parenthood, can only be encouraged, either out of altruism or out of wanting them to be there, by a certain form of affirmative action known as social support.

Yet our culture is quite different in the sense that one cannot really claim it to be multicultural. Should our society be forced to accept these changes? We do support families in distress out of charitable urge. If this were to change it would not be fair that those who chose not to marry and build a family would still expect social support. We give the free apartment to the single mother not because we want to encourage single mothers but because we want to give a helping hand. And yet is it having an adverse effect? Are people taking advantage of this situation?

Be this as it may the point here, ethically, is what should doctors, and politicians, do when faced with reproductive choices. Both find themselves in a difficult situation as the morality laid down by the Church, which indeed cannot be otherwise when considered academically, is difficult to lay down in medical and political practice. Should a doctor not refer, and be paternalistic by not referring patients for new technologies because they are not legally united? Do doctors get to choose?1 What about homosexual unions?

While the doctor can only work within the law, it is appreciated that what is immoral is not necessarily illegal. The doctor is expected to clearly lay out the options and either refer the couple for clinical ethics counselling, or to counsel them herself, even about the social and religious issues, as required by the biopsychosocial paradigm with which primary health care doctors work today. The couple is then able to make an ethical decision based on an informed process. Indeed it would be negligent on the part of health care professionals not to discuss seriously the social and cultural issues at hand.

The task for the politician is more complicated, and includes a clear legislation to cater for the last paragraph. But if presumably all politicians in our society want to abide by the second article of the constitution and legislate according to the Roman Catholic faith, it is doubtful that they would be able to legislate normatively – that is, the way society accepts as norm. This norm has of course its main players, the Catholic faith being on the front line, as evidenced by the introduction to this essay. It would be reasonable to expect politicians to introduce the law slowly and thus to favour the traditional family and allow the use of medical technology such as IVF for married couples, and perhaps the younger separated couples whose first marriage ended tragically and who aspire for at least a legal union. When it comes to more vivacious applications, parliament may certainly use restraint. Whether this infringes on human rights can be a legal conundrum; it certainly can however be based on upholding conservative values while accepting the recent changes of the times. One cannot see, and neither reasonably expect, the Maltese parliament to legislate in favour of either surrogate motherhood, or artificial insemination by donor sperm. The latter will certainly be seen by many as violating the integrity of the union and fidelity of the couple.

It seems that this legislation will make heroic history by attempting this first law in biotechnology applications. No reason to sit back; there are more to come: biobanks, genetic testing, end-of-life choices...

Pierre Mallia is Associate Professor in Family Medicine, Patients’ Rights and Bioethics at the University of Malta; he is also Ethics Advisor to the Medical Council of Malta.

1: Editorial, “Do I get to chose who should have a baby?”, Curbside Consultation column, The American Family Physician, March 1, 2003, Vol 6, No. 5, p. 1139-1141.

Jesuits' Website: IL-KRIŻI FIL-KNISJA ANGLIKANA - Sfidi kbar għall-għaqda
[Artiklu mingħajr Data.] Minn Sr Josette Zammit Mangion

Id-dibattitu dwar l-omosesswalità ilu fiċ-ċentru tal-ħajja tal-knisja Anglikana għall-lanqas matul l-aħħar għaxar snin. Is-suġġett tfaċċa uffiċjalment għall-ewwel darba fil-Konferenza ta’ Lambeth – laqgħa ta’ l-isqfijiet kollha fil-Komunjoni Anglikana, li sseħħ darba kull għaxar snin – fl-1998, fejn il-firdiet qawwija u akrimonjużi mill-ewwel dehru biċ-ċar.
Josette Zammit-Mangion IBVM

Il-knisja Episkopali Amerikana, li diġà kienet qed tipproċedi uffiċjalment bl-ordinazzjoni tan-nisa għas-saċordozju u l-episkopat, kienet qed tordna lil nies li kienu omosesswali pubblikament, u tikkunsidra li jitbierku relazzjonijiet omosesswali. Ix-xbieha ta’ isqof Afrikan jgħajjat li l-Levitiku jitlob il-piena tal-mewt għall-omosesswali, u jipprova jeżorċizza lil Richard Kirker, membru tal-Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, li dehret fil-mezzi kollha tax-xandir u ta’ l-istampa, baqgħet għal-ħafna nies il-memorja predominanti ta’ din il-laqgħa.

Id-distinżjonijiet bejn il-konservattivi u l-progressivi malajr iffurmaw u ssaħħu f’linji ċari: il-knejjes Amerikani u Kanadiżi kontra l-knejjes tal-pajjiżi li qed jiżviluppaw (bl-eċċezzjoni importanti ta’ l-Isqof Desmond Tutu ta’ l-Afrika t’Isfel). Il-knisja Ingliża sabet ruħha maqsuma min-nofs, bin-naħa evanġelika toħroġ bis-sħiħ kontra dik aktar liberali. Id-dikjarazzjoni ta’ Lambeth (1.10), fl-aħħar verżjoni tagħha, tmil lejn in-naħa konservattiva. Tibda billi tafferma l-importanza taż-żwieġ bejn mara u raġel u tipproponi l-astinenza sesswali għal dawk li mhumiex imsejħa għal din it-triq. Iżda l-punt kruċjali huwa r-raba’ wieħed, li jgħid hekk:

While rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, [this Conference] calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex.

Għalkemm grammatikament il-punt ċentrali ta din is-sentenza jsejjaħ pożittivament għall-inklużjoni ta’ nies omosesswali, il-frażi kruċjali, waħda li baqgħet essenzjalment diviżiva, hija l-ewwel waħda: il-kundanna tal-prattika omosesswali à bażi ta’ l-iskrittura.

In-natura tal-Komunjoni Anglikana

Bħal kull dikjarazzjoni tal-konferenza episkopali, din l-istqarrija m’għandhiex qawwa li torbot, imma li tirrikmanda. Il-Komunjoni Anglikana tiddiskrivi lilha nnifisha bħala ‘familja ta’ knejjes’ li jirrikonoxxu r-riti ta’ xulxin, iżda li huma maqsuma f’erbgħa u erbgħin provinċja li fl-aħħar mill-aħħar huma awtonomi. L-għaqda, il-Komunjoni, hija bażata fuq ir-rispett reċiproku, ix-xewqa għall-għaqda, u twemmin fi knisja ‘wahda, kattolika u appostolika’. Hija għaqda li tippermetti diversità kemm fid-duttrina kif ukoll fil-liturġija. L-Arċisqof ta’ Canterbury huwa meqjus bħala primus inter pares – l-ewwel fost l-aħwa – u ma għandu l’ebda ġurisdizzjoni barra mill-Knisja Ingliża (l-anqas fl-Iskozja jew Wales!). Fil-knisja Anglikana, fl-aħħar mill-aħħar, kull deċiżjoni dottrinali u pastorali tittieħed lokalment.

Lambeth 1998 tqieset minn ħafna bħala vittorja għall-konservattivi. Il-gwaj kbir però kien li l-kampijiet diversi webbsu l-pożizzjonijiet tagħhom, b’kitbiet kontra xulxin li ftit li xejn wrew spirtu nisrani. Il-ħatra ta’ Rowan Willams bħala Arċisqof ta’ Canterbury f’Lulju 2002 ntlaqgħet bi trepidazzjoni miż-żewġ naħat. Williams, li kien Arċisqof ta’ Wales, aktarx li hu l-iktar teologu eminenti Ingliż ta’ żminijietna u bniedem ta’ spiritwalità profonda. Hu kien jagħmel man-naħa progressiva kattolika tal-knisja (Carey, l-Arċisqof ta’ qablu, kien min-naħa Evanġelika), u kien magħruf għas-simpatija pastorali għall-omosesswali fi ħdan il-knisja.

Tiħrax il-kwistjoni

Hekk kif inħatar Williams, tlett ġrajjiet fuq xulxin wrew li l-kwistjoni ma kinetx ser tisparixxi. F’Lulju 2003, id-djoċesi ta’ New Westminster fil-Kanada approvat rit ghat-tberik tar-relazzjoni bejn żewġ persuni ta’ l-istess sess, b’maġġoranza qawwija, iżda mhux unanima. Williams ħareġ stqarrija li fiha wera d-dispjaċir tiegħu dwar din id-deċizjoni li kienet inevittabilment ser twassal għal tensjoni u firda. Fl-istess waqt, il-kriżi waslet fuq l-għatba ta’ daru stess, meta l-Prim Ministru Ingliż ħabbar il-ħatra ta’ Jeffrey John bħala isqof ta’ Reading, fuq rakkomandazzjoni ta’ l-isqof ta’ Oxford. Kemm dan, kif ukoll Williams kienu jafu dwar l-omosesswalità ta’ John li, ghalkemm kien jgħix mal-partner tiegħu, kien ukoll ta assigurazzjoni li għex iċ-ċelibat għall-aħħar għaxar snin.

Dan l-avveniment wassal għall-mobilizzazzjoni tal-kamp Evanġeliku. Sittax-il isqof fissru d-diżapprovazzjoni tagħhom f’ittra u talbu li John jindem pubblikament mill-imgħoddi tiegħu. Il-kwistjoni waslet fix-xena internazzjonali hekk kif l-Arċisqof Akinola tan-Niġerja u Jensen ta’ Sidney heddew li jirtiraw mill-Komunjoni jekk din il-ħatra ma tinbidilx. Williams, li fil-bidu tat-tilwima baqa’ sieket, kellu jintervjeni: eventwalment, diskussjoni twila ma John wasslet biex dan irriżenja. Jekk wasslet għal soluzzjoni temporanja, ir-riżenja ukoll ħalliet lil ħafna nies fil-knisja Ingliża diżillużi u miġugħin.

Il-knisja Amerikana, ħielsa minn responsabbiltà għat-tmexxija tal-Komunjoni, ma kenitx lesta għal kompromess bhal dan. Għalkemm fi hdanha wkoll kien hemm ċertu nuqqas ta’ qbil, dan ma kienx qawwi daqs dak fil-knisja Ingliża, aktarx għaliex l-element konservattiv nisrani fl-Amerika jinsab iktar fi knejjes oħra milli f’dik Episkopali. Fil-5 ta’ Awissu 2003 Gene Robinson, divorzjat minn mal-mara tiegħu u f’relazzjoni ma raġel ieħor, laħaq isqof ta’ New Hampshire bl-approvazzjoni tas-sinodu Amerikan. Din id-darba ma kienx hemm ċans ta’ riżejna, għalkemm ir-riverberazzjonijiet ta’ din id-deċiżjoni nstemgħu mill-ewwel madwar il-Komunjoni. L-isqfijiet Afrikani speċjalment għollew leħenhom … dawn qalu li ma setgħux jibqgħu f’komunjoni ma knisja li ħadet pass bħal dan. Akinola, il-Primat tan-Niġerja, sa wasal biex ordna isqof Niġerjan għall-Amerika għall-kura pastorali ta’ dawk l-Amerikani li ma jaqblux mal-prattika tal-knisja lokali tagħhom.

L-attitudni nisranija quddiem sfida għall-għaqda

Williams sab ruħu għal darb’oħra fil-pożizzjoni diffiċli li jżomm l-għaqda fost dawn id-diverġenzi kbar, fi knisja fejn l-awtorità hija devoluta, u fejn l-għaqda tiddependi fl-aħħar mill-aħħar mill-kunsiderazzjoni u r-rispett reċiproku, attitudnijiet li ma jinżammux faċilment f’każijiet emottivi bħal dawn. L-omeliji tiegħu fil-kungressi u laqgħat tal-Primati jemfasizzaw id-doni diversi tal-membri tal-knisja li huma msejħa fl-istess spirtu, is-sejha għall-konverżjoni tal-qalb, li noqgħodu attenti għall-bżonnijiet ta’ l-oħrajn, li nkunu lesti li nitgħallmu mingħand dawk li ma naqblux magħhom u li nimxu lil hinn mill-preġudizzju u l-biżgħat tagħna.

Fuq nota iktar prattika twaqqfet kummissjoni taħt l-Isqof Eames biex tħejji rapport dwar is-sitwazzjoni. Il-Windsor Report saħaq li l-isqfijiet għandhom ikunu aċċettabbli għall-komunjoni kollha, u li l-knejjes Amerikani u Kanadiżi għandhom juru sogħba għall-passi li ħadu, filwaqt li jiddikjaraw moratorium fuq is-sitwazzjoni. Għalkemm fl-istess waqt ir-rapport jsejjaħ lill-Afrikani biex juru sogħba għall-passi li huma ukoll ħadu, ir-rapport inftiehem l-iktar bħala pass konservattiv. Fil-laqgha tal-Primati fit-Tanżanija din is-sena, l-isqfijiet stabbilew l-aħħar ta’ Settembru biex l-ECUSA, l-ghaqda ta’ l-isqfijiet Amerikani, twieġeb għal dawn is-sejħiet. Huma rrikjedew wegħda li ma jinħatrux aktar isqfijiet omosesswali, li ma jitberkux relazzjonijiet omosesswali u li jipprovdu isqfijiet għal nies fil-knisja tagħhom li ma jaqblux mat-tmexxija liberali tal-knisja. F’laqgha fit-tmiem ta’ Settembru ta’ din is-sena, ECUSA qablet ma’ l-ewwel żewġ talbiet, filwaqt li kkritikat l-ordinazzjoni ta’ isqof Niġerjan għall-Amerika, kif ukoll id-deċiżjoni ta’ Williams li jeskludi lil Robinson mill-konferenza ta’ Lambeth li jmiss fl-2008.

Għal issa dan forsi ser joffri ftit żmien ta’ kalma, li fih Williams jista’ jitlob għal riflessjoni profonda u attitudni li tkun lesta li tisma’ fejn qed imexxi l-Ispirtu. Żgur iżda li ma jwassalx għat-tmiem tad-dibattitu.

Fil-qofol tal-kriżi jinsabu żewġ problemi kruċjali: l-ewwel, id-differenza fl- interpretazzjoni ta’ l-Iskrittura tant li din m’għadhiex toffri bażi għall-għaqda; it-tieni, kemm tista’ struttura devoluta toffri possibbiltajiet għal soluzzjoni mingħajr ma twassal għal xiżma. Fil-Punent il-knisja taffaċċja l-problema tal-kredibiltà hekk kif dan id-dibattitu jiżvolġi fl-arena pubblika taħt il-ħarsa kritika tal-Media. Fl-istess ħin dawn id-diskussjonijiet qajmu problemi fir-relazzjonijiet mal-knisja Kattolika kif ukoll ma’ l-Islam. Ta’ min jagħlaq però bil-kliem li bih jibda l-Windsor Report: ‘Perhaps the greatest tragedy of our current difficulties is the negative consequence it could have on the mission of the Church to a suffering and bewildered world.’

Josette Zammit Mangion, soru IBVM, tgħallem it-teoloġija f'Heythrop College, fl-Universita' ta' Londra.

MaltaStar: Lessons in hypocrisy
22 April 2009 by Andrew Sciberras

[Excerpt of the article.]

Hypocrisy is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the practice of claiming to have higher standards or beliefs than is the case.” I believe that such practice or practices are most ordinary on the islands of Malta. In fact, they seem to be the order of the day.

It is common knowledge that a good number of Maltese pride themselves with their Catholic beliefs and heritage. Let me make it clear that there is absolutely nothing wrong or shameful in being proud of one’s faith, lest I be accidentally (or purposefully) misunderstood. Yet if one is so proud of one’s faith why does one preach it only selectively? Let me explain.

I do not expect the Church to embrace the issue of civil rights such as divorce, gay rights, IVF technology, etc with open arms even though I wish it weren’t so fervently dogmatic on so many issues. Yet, although I don’t see eye to eye with the Catholic Church on certain aspects, I’ve no dispute whatsoever with it. My blood begins to boil however when I witness persons who profess to live by the rules of Church and God when in fact they clearly do not.

It is the kind of people who look down on civil rights such as divorce, cohabitation and gay rights - rights which in most European democracies are mainstream – and do so with repugnance and abhorrence. These are people who literally believe that giving a man the right to marry another man would result in the instant annihilation of ethics and morals. They have every right not to believe in gay marriage but you ask why and the obvious reply is that it goes against the laws of God. Such issues have everything to do with Christian morality. In fact these people are so concerned that they would only cast their vote for potential MEPs upon affirmation of their Catholic moral outlook which comes first and foremost. Read the letters in the newspapers if you don’t believe this.

I turn now to illegal immigration... [Click on the hyperlink above to view the whole article.]

Ideally religion would have nothing to do with issues such as divorce and illegal immigration because in an ideal world we would respect each other’s choices despite our personal faith and treat human beings with dignity without religion having to tell us to do so. But a world which is obstinately governed by “morality” on a wide range of issues and by a sheer lack of it in others (where it ought to feature the most!) is not an ideal world. It is a world governed by hypocrisy and what truly pains me is that this hypocrisy is not merely the fruit of ignorance but practised even by the wisest of the wise.

Dear friends, we can all be united under the banner of solidarity, which solidarity is admittedly plain hard to get (all the more reason to stand united), but let us not unite under the banner of hypocrisy. It is not worthy.

Times: The Nationalists' many broken promises
Thursday, 23rd April 2009 by Albert Gauci Cunningham, Buġibba

I don't like wasting people's time feeling all shocked and aghast at some comment Joseph Muscat made regarding that piece of not-so-nourishing beef called a burger and pathetically trying to point it out as the reason people should not vote Labour next June.

Instead I'll waste some of the readers' time asking those who call a spade a spade whether or not this is the same party many like me voted for and whether or not it still deserves our support!

Is this the same party that preached togetherness? Where is the "togetherness" now? Where was the togetherness in the messy utility saga affair when everyone, including those who stood four square behind Eddie Fenech Adami during the EU referendum, told our PM and Austin Gatt that these bills were a menace and a burden a weak economy could well do without? Where is the "togetherness" when these same bills are issued while they are being discussed with the regulator?

Why did the PN promise to widen the highest tax band by 10 per cent (35 per cent tax down to 25 per cent) when it knew that this was a measure the country could not afford in times of economic ills? Why did the PN lie so blatantly when up till last March when Lawrence Gonzi used to say that "finances are fine now, in fact we can focus on the environment" only to find that the deficit is out of control and will increase by more than threefold (€60 million to €200 million)? Why did the PN destroy everything it had so excruciatingly "built" before 2008 just to win an election which it had known it would only win by default (as it did)?

Why did the PN promise to continue helping young people through a particular housing scheme only to abruptly stop it when people had already signed contracts? Does the PN know how many people were up in arms against this classic case of total lack of "togetherness"?

Why did Dr Gonzi act like our modern day workers' hero promising not to give contracts to businessmen who employ people illegally or disregard their rights such as sick leave only to go totally mute on it since March?

Have all these very real injustices faded into thin air now or was it just a load of crap like most of the manifesto itself? Why did the PN promise the Ta' Qali businesses a project which it had now so unceremoniously scrapped? Why did the government promise to support anti-homophobia legislation only to retract and say that we need a "culture-change" after march?  [Click here and here for articles] Whatever happened to the urgency to enact laws that protect co-habitating couples? How longer must these people wait to see this promise materialise?

Why did the PN give the impression that liberalisation was not on the cards in the transport sector when it knew that this was not the case? Why did it promise loads of people jobs here and there only to "conveniently" forget these voters after March? Why promise accountability when we have ministries "drowning" in mismanagement and no-one is held responsible? Why whine about "biting the bullet" on one hand and increase the Cabinet's wage on the other? Isn't that exactly what the MLP had done in 1997 and for which it got a lot of egg on the face from the Nationalist side? So what has changed now? And all this is just the tip of the whole shocking iceberg of broken promises, apathy and arrogance!

True, some would rightly point out that I made my bed and so I should lie on it and as much as I have to accept that argument I have to also reserve my right as a voter in a supposedly democratic country to shout out aloud that the "bed" I got after March was definitely not the one I bargained for and therefore that the "contract" thousands "signed" with the PN through their vote has been disregarded or even worse completely broken. Come June I will definitely not be voting for those who used me for my vote and then did it "their way" once power for them and their acolytes was secured!

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments.]

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Australian Attorney General: Same-Sex Reforms
Australian Government; Attorney General's Department

Overview of the Australian Government’s Same-Sex Law Reforms

The Australian Government believes that people are entitled to respect, dignity and the opportunity to participate in society and receive the protection of the law regardless of their sexuality.

Following the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report, Same-Sex: Same Entitlements and an audit of Commonwealth legislation, the Australian Government introduced reforms to remove discrimination to enable same-sex couples and their children to be recognised by Commonwealth law.

The reforms aim to ensure that same-sex couples and their families are recognised and have the same entitlements as opposite-sex de facto couples.  

As a result of ensuring that same-sex couples receive the same treatment as opposite-sex de facto couples, the reforms may also impose burdens on some same-sex couples or reduce certain benefits they currently receive.

It is the Government’s view that these reforms are necessary and an essential step towards a fairer and more just society.

The reforms amend 84 Commonwealth laws to eliminate discrimination against same‑sex couples and their children in a wide range of areas, including social security, taxation, Medicare, veteran’s affairs, workers’ compensation, educational assistance, superannuation, family law and child support.

The reforms have a significant impact in the following areas:


  • The reforms in relation to tax commence on 1 July 2009
  • The amount of tax people are liable to pay may depend on whether they are (or were) in a relationship, or whether they have dependant children or relatives.
  • The reforms will ensure that same-sex couples are able to access the same tax concessions available to married and opposite‑sex de facto couples.
  • For more information please call the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) on 13 28 61 or visit the ATO’s website


Defined Benefits Superannuation

  • Previously, the same-sex partner of a beneficiary in a Commonwealth (defined benefit) superannuation scheme did not receive direct access to a reversionary death benefit.
  • The changes enable death benefits to be conferred on same-sex partners and the children of same‑sex relationships.

Social Security and Family Assistance

  • The social security and family assistance reforms commence on 1 July 2009.
  • Same-sex couples are not currently recognised as a couple for social security or family assistance purposes. A person who has a same-sex de facto partner is currently treated as a single person.
  • The reforms ensure that same-sex couples are recognised as a couple. Consequently, a same-sex couple will receive the same rate of social security and family assistance payments as an opposite-sex couple.
  • The reforms made to social security and family assistance also allow for the recognition of children of same-sex couples.
  • For more information please contact Centrelink on 13 62 80 or visit the Centrelink website [view related article here]

PBS Safety Net and the Medicare Safety Net

  • The changes to the Medicare and PBS safety nets commence on 1 January 2009.
  • Previously, same‑sex couples could not access the Medicare or Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) safety nets as a family.
  • Amendments to the Health Insurance Act 1973  enable same‑sex couples and their dependant children to be recognised as a family for the purposes of the Medicare safety net.  
  • Amendments to the National Health Act 1953 allow same‑sex couples and their dependant children to access the PBS safety net as a family.
  • For more information in relation to the Medicare safety net please contact Medicare Australia on 132011 or visit theMedicare Australia website
  • For more information in relation to the PBS safety net please contact the PBS Information Line on 1800 020 613. Further information will soon be available on the Department of Health and Ageing website

Aged Care

  • The reforms in relation to aged care commence on 1 July 2009.
  • A person who has a same-sex partner is currently treated as a single person under the aged care income and assets tests. Their partner’s income and assets are disregarded. If their partner is still living in the couple’s home, all, part, or none of the value of the home may be included in the assets assessment, depending on each partner’s share in the ownership of the home, and whether the partner is a carer receiving an income support payment.
  • The income test determines whether a person is eligible to pay an income tested fee and, if so, the amount of fee that is payable. The assets test determines whether a person is eligible to pay an accommodation bond or accommodation charge, and, if so, the maximum amount of bond or charge that is payable.
  • Under the reforms same-sex couples will be treated in the same way as opposite-sex couples. This means that a member of a same-sex couple will be taken to have 50% of the total value of the couple’s income and assets. It will also mean that the value of the couple’s home will be excluded in the assets assessment if the person’s partner or dependant child is still living in the home, or if a child of the couple, who is eligible to receive an income support payment, has lived in the home for the past five years. This could lower the accommodation costs paid by aged care residents and increase the level of Government subsidy paid to homes on behalf of some residents.
  • The reforms will result in some current and future residents paying less and some paying more, by way of income tested fees, as their partner’s income will taken into consideration in the income test. If a resident's income tested fee is increased, the level of the Government subsidy paid on behalf of the resident will decrease by a corresponding amount.  Income testing continues to be undertaken while residents remain in care. 
  • The reforms will also mean that some members of same-sex couples who first enter permanent residential aged care on or after 1 July 2009 may pay a higher accommodation bond or charge.
  • Generally, accommodation bonds and charges for members of same-sex couples who enter care before 1 July 2009 will not be affected by the reforms.  However, if a resident moves to a different aged care home and has another assets assessment, the reforms may affect the amount of their bond or charge
  • For more information please call the Aged Care Information Line on 1800 500 853.

Child Support

  • The reforms in relation to child support commence on 1 July 2009.
  • Changes are being made to the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989 and Child Support (Registration & Collection) Act 1988 to recognise the new parentage laws for same‑sex couples. Where same‑sex couples separate, they will be able to apply for child support. Decisions on parentage will be based on the changes to the Family Law Act 1975.
  • Applications can be made from 1 July 2009 onwards, even if the couple had children and separated before 1 July 2009.
  • For more information please call 131 272 or visit the Child Support Agency website


  • The start dates of reforms to immigration laws have been staggered. Reforms to the Immigration (Guardianship of Children) Act 1946 are expected to commence on 15 March 2009. Reforms to the Migration Act 1958 and the Immigration (Education) Act 1971 commence on 1 July 2009
  • Changes will be made to the Migration Regulations made under the Migration Act 1958. This will mean that same-sex couples and their children will be ‘members of the family unit’ for visa purposes, in the same way that spouses and opposite‑sex de facto partners and their children are currently included as members of the family unit.
  • Same-sex partners of Australian citizens, Australian permanent residents and eligible New Zealand citizens will be able to apply for the same partner visa as opposite-sex partners.
  • Children of opposite-sex and same-sex couples will be included as members of the family unit of the primary visa applicant.
  • For more information please call 131 881 or visit the Department of Immigration and Citizenship website.


  • The reforms in relation to citizenship are expected to commence on 15 March 2009.
  • Previously, same-sex and opposite-sex couples have been treated differently under the Australian Citizenship Act 2007.
  • The reforms mean that same-sex couples have the same entitlements as opposite‑sex couples. In particular, this will allow the same-sex partner of an Australian citizen to count a period of time spent outside Australia as a period of time spent in Australia for the purposes of meeting the requirements for citizenship by conferral.
  • Reforms also allow for the recognition of children of same-sex and opposite-sex de facto couples where artificial conception procedures have been used, or where approved surrogacy arrangements have been entered into.
  • For more information please call 131 880 or visit the Department of Immigration and Citizenship website.

Veterans’ Affairs

  • The changes in relation to veterans’ affairs allow same-sex couples to access certain entitlements from which they were previously precluded.
  • The changes include the provision of assistance to members of the Defence Force to acquire homes; certain pensions and other benefits becoming available to same-sex partners widows or widowers; and other benefits, including death benefits, becoming available to the children of impaired or deceased Defence Force members or veterans. 
  • For more information please call 133 254.

Australian Federal Government: Same-Sex Reforms - Centrelink

Note by P. Attard: Same-sex couples will be recognised as from the 1st July 2009 by the Australian Social Security Agency (Centrelink), thanks to wide-ranging changes under the new Labour Federal Government headed by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. 

Australian Federal Government, Capital Hill, Canberra

[Click on the image to enlarge.]

The Australian Government has introduced wide-ranging reforms that recognise all couples, regardless of the sexual orientation or gender of a partner. The reforms also recognises children living in same-sex families.

From 1 July 2009 changes to legislation will mean that customers who are in a same-sex de facto relationship will be recognised as partnered for Centrelink and Family Assistance Office purposes. All customers who are assessed as being a member of a couple will have their rate of payment calculated in the same way.

Customers can contact Centrelink about how these changes may affect them by calling 13 6280. From 30 March 2009 customers can call this number to declare their relationship.

Information for customers and community organisations

The same-sex law reforms may affect certain Centrelink payments. Further information is available for customers and community organisations in this website.

Factsheets and publications

The same-sex law reforms may affect certain payments you receive from Centrelink. Details about these payments including rates are available in the Factsheets and publicationssection.

Other government changes

The same-sex law reforms affect services and payments you may be receiving from other government agencies and departments. Refer to Other government changes for more information.

Couples are Couples video, audio and press advertisement


This video provides information about the new reforms and what they mean for customers.


This audio contains information for customers about the new reforms.

Press advertisement

This advertisement will feature in national press and contains information for customers about the reforms and how to find out more information.

Media backgrounder

This media provides background information regarding the same-sex law reforms and Centrelink.


Centrelink understands that it can be difficult to disclose your relationship status. If you are concerned about identifying your sexual orientation or being discriminated against, refer toPrivacy section for more information.

Review and appeals

If you are not happy with a decision made by Centrelink, you have the right to question it. The review and appeal process is explained in the Reviews and Appeals factsheet.

More information

Contact details

If you want to talk to someone about how these changes may affect you, you can call us on13 6280. From 30 March 2009 you can call this number to declare your relationship.

As your payments may change, it is a good idea to start planning your financial affairs early. If you want to talk to a Financial Information Service officer about the financial impacts of these changes, call 13 2300.

Centrelink also have social workers available to provide counselling and support, provide information about referral to community support services and assist with claims for payment. To speak with a Centrelink Social Worker call 13 1794.

To speak to Centrelink in languages other than English, call 13 1202.

Useful links

MaltaStar: Iraqi Militia killing gay men with anal glue torture

21 April 2009 16:23

Terror, humiliation and murder is the daily life gays in Iraq are facing as a United Arab Emirates news network published an article reporting the way gay men are being killed by Iraqi soldiers.

The report, published on Alarabiya, reveals the sickening ways gay men are being killed.

A prominent Iraqi human rights activist says that Iraqi militia have deployed a painful form of torture against homosexuals by closing their anuses using 'Iranian gum', Alaribya reported.

Yina Mohammad told that, 'Iraqi militias have deployed an unprecedented form of torture against homosexuals by using a very strong glue that will close their anus.'

According to her, the new substance 'is known as the American hum, which is an Iranian-manufactured glue that if applied to the skin, sticks to it and can only be removed by surgery.

After they glue the anuses of homosexuals, they give them a drink that causes diarrhea. Since the anus is closed, the diarrhea causes death. Videos of this form of torture are being distributed on mobile cellphones in Iraq.'

According to this human rights activist, for the past three weeks a crackdown on homosexuals has been going on based on a religious decree that demands their death; dozens have been targeted.

She says that the persecution of homosexuals is not confined to the Shiite clerics. Some Sunni leaders have also declared the death penalty for sodomy on satellite channels."

"Why are you dressed like a girl?"

In another case, a video clip taken on a mobile phone and widely distributed around Baghdad shows a terrified young Iraqi boy cowering and whimpering as men with a stick force him to strip, revealing women's underwear beneath his dishdasha (Arab robe), BBC News reported.

"Why are you dressed as a girl?" roars one of the men, brandishing his stick as the youth removes his brassiere.

The sobbing boy, who appears to be about 12, tries to explain that his family made him do it to earn money, as they have no other source of income.

The scene, apparently filmed in a police post, reinforced reports of a campaign against gay men in Iraq which activists say has claimed the lives of more than 60 since December.

N.Y. Times: Senegal: Court Frees 9 Gay Men
Published: April 20, 2009, By ADAM NOSSITER

An appeals court on Monday freed nine gay men who had been convicted of “unnatural acts” earlier this year, in a case that drew international condemnation from human rights groups and foreign governments. Senegal, predominantly Muslim, criminalizes homosexuality like dozens of other African nations. The men were arrested in December at the home of a prominent gay activist and sentenced to eight years in prison.

L-Orizzont: Farley se tagħti taħdita

“Gender, Sexuality & Ethics” se tkun it-tema trattata waqt taħdita pubblika li Margaret Farley (ritratt) – meqjusa bħala ‘vuċi progressiva’ fi ħdan il-Knisja Kattolika – ġiet mistiedna biex tagħmel taħdita nhar il-Ħamis fil-Gateway Building, fl-Università ta’ Malta.

Din il-laqgħa ta’ diskussjoni hija organizzata mill-grupp gay kattoliku Drachma, bil-kollaborazzjoni tad-Department of Youth and Community Studies tal-Università ta’ Malta u l-għaqda Studenti Ħarsien Soċjali. L-iskop huwa li jsir dibattitu dwar ix-xorta tas-sess, is-sesswalità u kwistjonijiet kristjani.

Il-Professur Margaret Farley kienet l-ewwel mara maħtura biex isservi fultajm fil-Fakultà tal-Etika Kristjana fil-Yale University Divinity School, u flimkien ma’ Nenri Nouwen għandha d-distinzjoni li tkun l-ewwel Kattolika Rumana li serviet bħala membru tal-Fakultà fid-Divinity School.

Serviet bħala President kemm tal-Catholic Theological Society tal-Amerika kif ukoll tas-Society of Christian Ethics. Margaret Farley hija rispettata ħafna kemm bħala studjuża kif ukoll bħala għalliema. Kienet bdiet tgħallem fil-Yale University Divinity School fl-1971, mil-liema Università kisbet Ph.D fl-1973.

Hija awtriċi u ko-awtriċi ta’ mill-inqas seba’ kotba, inklużi “Personal Commitments: Beginning, Keeping, Changing, Compassionate Respect” u aktar riċenti “Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics”. Ippubblikat ukoll għexieren ta’ artikli u kapitli f’kotba dwar l-metodoloġija etika, kif ukoll dwar l-etika femminista, medika, sesswali, soċjali u teoloġika storika, u l-ispiritwalità. Hija mfittxija ħafna u kienet mistiedna biex tindirizza konferenzi internazzjonali u mexxiet diskussjonijiet f’diversi pajjiżi fosthom fl-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika, fl-Asja, l-Afrika u fl-Ewropa.

Grazzi għall-ħidma sfieqa tagħha, Margaret A. Farley ħadet il-fama u hija magħrufa bħala ‘vuċi teoloġika progressiva’, fejn il-kelma tagħha għandha ċerta saħħa f’diversi oqsma. Dawn jinkludu t-teoloġija femminista, l-etika medika u sesswali, ir-rwol tan-nisa fil-Knisja, l-omosesswalità u l-Knisja, kif ukoll il-perspettivi reliġjużi dwar l-ambjent.

Margaret Farley ingħatat ħdax-il degree onorarji flimkien ma’ varjetà sħiħa ta’ fellowships u premjijiet. Dawn jinkludu l-John Courtney Murray Award for Excellence in Theology fl-1992; l-Elizabeth Seton Award for Distinguished Theologian fl-2007; il-Grawemeyer Award in Religion fl-2007 għall-ktieb tagħha “Just Love”, kif ukoll il-Yves Congar Award for Catholic Theology and Ethics fl-2008.

Il-Professur Margaret Farley hija l-mistiedna tal-grupp Kattoliku Drachma, li jħaddan fih persuni gay, lesbjani, bisesswali u transesswali li jiltaqgħu biex jitolbu flimkien. Dan hu grupp li dawk fi ħdanu jiffukaw fuq l-imħabba ta’ Alla, irrelevanti minn min huma u x’inhuma. Drachma huwa l-post fejn il-membri tiegħu jfittxu dak li jgħaqqadhom u mhux dak li jifridhom.

Bħala grupp jirrikonoxxu lill-Knisja Kattolika bħala “ommna u l-għalliema tagħna”. Iżda jħossu ukoll li għandhom jgħarrfu l-esperjenzi tagħhom bħala LGBT Kattoliċi. Huma jirrikonoxxu li l-Knisja Kattolika hija rikka u għandha sors ta’ għarfien u tradizzjonijiet; fuq kollox hija l-Knisja ta’ Ġesù Kristu, għalhekk dar ta’ imħabba għall-umanità kollha. Jemmnu ukoll fl-inklużjoni sħiħa ta’ persuni LGBT fi ħdan il-Knisja Kattolika. Apparti l-laqgħat ta’ talb regolari, il-grupp Drachma jorganizza ukoll laqgħat ta’ diskussjoni dwar temi li jolqtu mill-qrib lil persuni LGBT. Għal dawn il-laqgħat, huma jistiednu ukoll personalitajiet magħrufin minn barra biex jaqsmu mal-pubbliku Malti l-esperjenzi u jitkellmu dwar suġġetti li huma struwiti fihom.

Kull min jixtieq aktar tagħrif dwar id-diversi ħidmiet li jwettaq il-grupp Drachma u rigward avvenimenti li jorganizzaw il-membri tagħha, kull min jixtieq xi għajnuna jew pariri, kif ukoll min jixtieq jgħin anke permezz ta’ għajnuna finanzjarja, jista’ jagħmel kuntatt billi jibgħat fuq: jew jidħol fis-sit:

Times: The Church and modern society
Tuesday, 21st April 2009 by Fr Joseph Mizzi, Director of the Cana Movement.

What is the role of the Church today? Should it remain confined to the sacristy and the sacred space? Should it be concerned solely with liturgical service? This is good and should be done properly but the vision of our bishops, Mgr Paul Cremona and Mgr Mario Grech, as outlined for us, in the light of the teachings of Vatican Council II, is much broader. It is a vision full of hope and trust in the Risen Lord, open to dialogue and active involvement in improving this world and not despising it. Of course, this does not come without a cost but the Church cannot refrain from doing it, cannot remain silent if she wants to be faithful to her Lord and Master.

Some people have recently aired their views and asked why should the Church be present on most of the television and radio discussion programmes? Why should the Church always have something to say regarding most issues? Why should the Church interfere in all matters that are being discussed on the social agenda of the country?

I think these are valid questions that merit an answer. Needless to say, if we are to engage in an honest and sincere dialogue, the Church has first to listen to the people of today and then find the proper context and language to proclaim its message.

The Catholic Church speaks not only because in a democratic society everyone has a right to speak but, above all, the Church speaks because it has a special duty towards humanity. Pope Paul VI once referred to the Church as an "expert of humanity" precisely through its knowledge of Jesus Christ.

The Church, backed by 2,000 years of experience, is in duty bound to speak with the purpose of enlightening consciences and to protect the dignity of the person. The Church converses not only with those who share our faith and those who do not but with all people of goodwill.

I think all of us should be grateful to the Church because very few institutions are speaking in an illuminative way in favour of the inviolable rights of the human person. Hence, all this shows that religion is not something that can be relegated to the private and subjective domain but it is something that influences all spheres of life. Religion is like a light that shows the way towards the fulfilment in Christ.

The Church must continue, especially nowadays, to enlighten consciences on certain issues, which are becoming more and more challenging. These include, for instance, the protection of life in all its stages because life is a gift from God; the defence of the natural structure of the family, based on heterosexual marriage, for it is the best place for every individual to grow and develop as a person; and the promotion of the beauty of sexuality, which enables one to enter into communion with another person of the opposite sex and, in so doing, shares in the mystery of Creation.

It seems we are living in an age and time where, to scorn the Catholic teaching on love and sexuality, means to earn the approval of modern society. However, the basic teaching of the Church is education in love and responsibility. Even if temporarily this teaching might sound difficult, sooner or later people will realise that this is for their own real good.

All this shows that the Church has a vital role to play in society. It has to keep on listening and to keep on passing the message of the Gospel with charity. The world wants to listen to the "good news", provided it is presented in a positive light. And why not? Above all, as Pope Benedict XVI said, "Catholicism is not a collection of prohibitions but a positive option".

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments.]

A Selection of interesting Comments is pasted here:

1. Steve C Port
Please stop telling gay people that their sexuality is wrong. I have had enough. Can't you see you are making people - especially young people who are at the mercy of your brainwashing - suffer unnecessarily? Why do you have to tell someone who falls in love with a member of his own sex that this is wrong? Who are you to judge? You have no idea what harm you are causing; maybe one day we will know the number of suicides that are a direct cause of your insensitive and stupid teaching. How can I appreciate the beauty of sexuality by entering into a communion with a member of the opposite sex, if the opposite sex does not interest me? Can't you see that you have no idea about what you are talking about?

2. Martin Spitier
[replying to the author] Fr Joe Mizzi, while I agree to many points which are valid and show human dignity, I will remind you that the church must abolish its stand on human sexuality and start seeing the diversity of the human being. The natural world has provided life with everything it needs , yet the church continiously refuses to acknowledge that humanity is not stereo typed. There is a huge humanity yet the church still harps alone against homosexuality, and clings to its fundamentalistic ideas to justify itself. It is a shame on us that in 2009 we are hearing our bishops harp about these problems and trying to justify them

3. lgalea
[replying to] Steve C Port, Martin Spitier
Male and female were created as such to perpetuate the human race.
Nature itself made life as male and female with a few exceptions to perpetuate the different species. It does not mean that some mistakes are not made in the process of nature, but they are exceptions not the rule. So those who do not conform with nature cannot expect not to be told that they are the exception and not to have the same rights as those who do. How can homosexuals expect the Church and a society that wants to protect its values recognize their unions as marriage when marriage is an institution between a male and a female? If you do not conform to the rules then sorry you cannot be considered as the institution governed by those rules.
What the Church is doing is not only continuing what God, for those who believe made, but also what nature itself has made and developed throughout the life of our planet.

4. Gabi Calleja
While in complete agreement with Fr Joe Mizzi that the Church needs to listen, this dialogue serves no purpose if the Church remains entrenched in its position and continues to assume upon itself the role of harbinger of truth and enlightener of consciences without considering the possibility that it could actually be stating an untruth.
Waun, (1999) states that 'Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons are no longer able to integrate in their lives Christian tradition, which condemns non-heterosexual behavior, because the truth of their own experience has proved more reasonable and compatible with Scriptures that proclaim love, inclusion, and the beauty of God’s creation in all its variety'.
For sexual minorities who are often defined by their erotic desires, the integration of sexuality and spirituality can be a major hurdle. While religions appear to hate the body, queers are often forced to come to terms with it and value it as an expression of their difference as their relationships exercise healing and integrating forces in their lives. Perhaps if the Church and its representatives were truly willing to listen, they might actually stop viewing homosexuality as a threat and more as a manifestation of God’s creativity.