Monday, 9 November 2009

Independent: ‘Parliamentarians duty bound to ensure homosexuals’ human dignity’ – Louis Galea

8.11.9? by Annaliza Borg

Parliamentarians are duty bound to ensure social justice and to guarantee the human dignity of homosexuals and bisexuals, Speaker of the House Louis Galea told the opening of last week’s International Lesbian Gay Association conference – with the theme Overcoming Cultural and Religious Barriers to Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, and Trans-Gender Equality held in Malta.

Moreover, Dr Galea stressed that parliamentarians need to inform themselves objectively about the issues surrounding sexual orientation. They need to avoid the attitude that homosexuals are claiming any “special” or “additional” rights.

The point of departure in any such debate, Dr Galea said, needs to be Article One of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, adopted some 60 years ago, which states that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, whatever their sexual orientation.

Moreover, equality and discrimination should be the prime rules of any Christian who loves his neighbour.

And although there are gay-friendly Christian groups, Dr Galea stressed that what is needed is dialogue with the anti-gay Christian community with a view to increasing understanding and tolerance.

Speaking to The Malta Independent on Sunday, he noted that human dignity must be central to any such discussions, and that the subject must not be treated in a prejudiced or populist manner. But, in so doing, we must first understand the subject well and base knowledge on facts, bioethics, science and many other aspects. The issues, he pointed out, are complex.

Homosexuals insist on being included in dialogue, but they too must respect those on the other side of the spectrum or those who are still unsure about certain issues. The discussion must not in any way be polarised, he insisted.

“I believe that the main principle guiding our human rights approach to sexual orientation refers to the fulfilment of human dignity through equality and non-discrimination,” he told the conference, while also observing how there is an even more pernicious type of discrimination, which may never catch the headlines, but which is very often perpetrated insidiously as a result of ingrained cultural and religious traditions, beliefs and pseudo beliefs. In such instances, many show a discriminatory disposition and act accordingly, very often unknowingly, because they have been influenced by those who are expected to know much better.

Within the context, he observes how it is easier to gather support against political, social or economic discrimination than change discriminatory attitudes emanating from a cultural or religious mindset.

In his comments to this newspaper, Dr Galea explained that in principle, he is against same-sex marriages but would keep an open mind as he was aware that same sex partnerships have existed and will continue to exist.

“I am still searching for the truth on the issue”, he told the conference, stressing that he feels no one should immediately jump to hasty conclusions on the sensitive subject.

As yet, Malta is lacking legislation that comprehensively regulates lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and trans-gender equality. Because of this, the Speaker sees a need for the Parliamentary Social Affairs Committee to discuss the subject “objectively, seriously and in a calm manner”.

The time has yet to come for parliament to discuss the matter, he said, adding the observation that there is also space for improvement in current legislation, although there has been some progress in this area in recent years.

The pre-electoral programmes of the main parties make reference to the equality of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation. Dr Galea recalled that even President George Abela referred to the matter in his first presidential speech.

He said there was a need to reflect upon and discuss conflicts that may exist between freedom of religious beliefs and the interests of same-sex couples, in order to resolve such conflicts, while focusing on the possible legal and policy ramifications inherent in the recognition of same-sex relationships.

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