28 September 2009 by Malta Gay Rights Movement [email]
[See the Media Coverage on the Times and Orizzont.]
LGBT families are a part of everyday life throughout the world and some countries now acknowledge this reality and have created a legal framework of rights and obligations that formalise the relationships of LGBT families. Marriage is now possible to same-sex couples in the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, and in the States of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire. Other forms of recognition exist in many other states. As one Canadian Supreme Court judge has put it:
“Family means different things to different people, and the failure to adopt the traditional family form of marriage may stem from a multiplicity of reasons – all of them equally valid and all of them worthy of concern, respect, consideration and protection under the law.”
Nevertheless, LGBT families have discovered to their cost that the traditional family ideal is still a potent conservative force to be reckoned with. Unable to match up to the ‘traditional’ family ideal, many LGBT families find that they still face discrimination, marginalisation and exclusion. The practical implications of having our most important and intimate loving relationships kept outside of a framework of legal protection and regulation can be devastating.
These include, among others:
• lack of recognition of same-sex couples for immigration purposes, regardless of how long-term or well established the relationship is;
• lack of free movement for third country national LGBT families’ members which is guaranteed in only very limited terms;
• certain administrative privileges being denied to LGBT families’ members;
• not being recognised as their partner’s or child’s ‘next of kin’;
• the inability of children to establish a legally-recognised relationship with a non-biological parent, regardless of the depth of relationship between them;
• difficulty for non-biological parents in performing straightforward everyday actions, such as travelling abroad with their children;
• being denied the protection of property laws that usually recognise that the family home merits special protection;
• being denied the chance to adopt a child purely on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity;
• lack of access to employment laws that recognise that families have certain special needs such as parental leave or emergency family leave;
• lack of access to pension schemes which offer particular benefits to family members but do not recognise LGBT families’ relationships;
• no recognition with regards to intestacy rules from which family members automatically benefit if a person dies without making a will;
• lack of recognition of LGBT families with regards to social security benefits;
• lack of a legal framework that determines financial support and how property is divided in the event of a relationship breakdown;
As Andrew Sullivan has written, the idea of a single natural family form with deep historical roots is extremely fragile:
“The Institution of civil marriage, like most institutions, has undergone vast changes over the last two millennia. If marriage were the same today as it has been for 2,000 years, it would be possible to marry a twelve-year-old you had never met, to own a wife as property and dispose of her at will, or to imprison a person who married someone of a different race.”
As members of Malta’s legislative assembly, MP’s have both the power and the responsibility to address this injustice. This appeal calls on MP’s to treat all Maltese citizens equally and to have the courage to legislate in this regard.
Freedom and Equality (La Libertad y La Igualdad)
Today, my government definitively submits for Senate approval the Bill, modifying Civil Law, which gives the right to form a marriage contract, a fulfilment of an electoral campaign promise.
We recognize today in Spain the rights of same-sex couples to enter in a marriage contract. Before Spain, they allowed this in Belgium, Holland, and, as of two days ago, Canada. We have not been the first, but I assure you that we will not be the last. After us, there will be many more countries motivated, honourable members, by two unstoppable forces: freedom and equality.
It is just a small change to the legal text, adding but a paragraph, in which we establish that marriage will have the same requisites, and the same rights, when the couple is either of different sexes, or the same sex. It is a small change in the letter of the law that creates an immense change in the lives of thousands of our fellow citizens.
We are not legislating, honourable members, for a far away and unknown people. We are extending the opportunity for happiness to our neighbours, co-workers, friends, and our families: at the same time, we are making a more decent society, because a decent society is one that does not humiliate its members.
In the poem “The family” our poet Luis Cernuda lamented:
Today, Spanish society responds to a group of people that for years have been humiliated, whose rights have been ignored, whose dignity has been offended, and whose identity and freedom has been denied. Today, Spanish society grants them the respect they deserve, recognizes their rights, restores their dignity, affirms their identity, and restores their freedom.
It is true that they are only a minority, but their triumph is everyone’s triumph. It is also a triumph of those who oppose this law, even as they attempt to ignore it, because it is the triumph of freedom. This victory makes all of us a better society.
Honourable members, there is no damage to marriage or to the family in allowing two people of the same sex to get married. Rather, these citizens now have the ability to organize their lives according to marital and familial norms and demands. There is no threat to the institution of marriage, but precisely the opposite: this law recognizes and values marriage.
Aware that some people and institutions profoundly disagree with this legal change, I wish to say that like other reforms to the marriage code that preceded this one, this law will not generate bad results; that its only consequence will be to avoid senseless suffering of human beings. A society that avoids senseless suffering of its citizens is a better society.
In any case, I wish to express my deep respect to those people and institutions, and I also want to ask for the same respect for all of those who approve of this law. To the homosexuals that have personally tolerated the abuse and insults for many years, I ask that you add to the courage you have demonstrated in your struggle for civil rights, an example of generosity and joy with respect to all the beliefs.
Today, we demonstrate with this Bill that societies can better themselves, and can cross barriers and create tolerance by putting a stop to the humiliation and unhappiness. Today, for many, comes the day evoked by Kavafis a century ago: