Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Times: The state and the bedroom
Monday, 7th June 2010 by Mario Vella

On Tuesday, June 1, Nationalist MP Edwin Vassallo, in his capacity as chairman of the House Social Affairs Committee, is reported to have said that what happens in the bedroom is the state's business. This newspaper, in its report of Thursday, June 3, of the proceedings of this parliamentary committee paraphrased the Nationalist member as follows: "What happens in the bedroom is, up to a point, the government's business because it often had to resolve problems caused there".

Later in the same report, the same gentleman's own actual words are quoted: "What we're learning in this committee is that what happens in the bedroom often ends up before the state to do something about it". Helpfully putting his words in context, the reporting journalist notes that "Mr Vassallo made his comments in reaction to Labour MP Anthony Zammit's reiteration of Labour leader Joseph Muscat's statement that it was not for the state to care what happened in the bedroom".

This exchange of views took place during a sitting of the Committee where the Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM) presented the findings of a report on the problems faced by gay people in Malta. Mr Vassallo cited "single parents and teenage pregnancies" as "examples" of the sort of problems arising from "what happens in the bedroom". Presumably, Mr Vassallo cited them to justify the state's interest and concern with what citizens do in the privacy of their bedrooms.

In a later clarification, he said that the government "can never and should never interfere" in one's private life, however, it had a role to inform people of the consequences of their private decisions" (The Times, June 4, p.3).

The Times (June 3) reported that the other Nationalist MP on the Committee, Beppe Fenech Adami, showed a keen interest in the existence or otherwise of stereotypical gender roles in the case of same-sex parenting.

According to the report, he "asked the MGRM representatives whether in homosexual couples there were 'mother and father roles'. In his and his wife's experience, Dr Fenech Adami said, when they tried filling each other's role the results weren't that good".

I will comment on this myself next time we meet on this page. Today, I will only refer to a few comments to the said report on this newspaper's online edition. I recommend you read them all. My own reading of these comments led me to two conclusions.

Firstly, that the House of those that are meant to represent us is not above our society. From this point of view, the House of Representatives is indeed representative. It reflects the state of our culture and the contradictions that characterise it. Bigotry, prejudice, intolerance and sheer ignorance tangle and intertwine with enlightened humaneness, progressive moderation and educated opinion in a confused and confusing mass. Moreover, the political tango itself reflects this tangle.

Secondly, that the House of Representatives is less representative of enlightened opinion in our society than society itself.

Joe Zammit, who manages to bring abortion into his picture of the issue, tells us that homosexuality is a great evil. M. Cassar calls upon the European Commission to come to our aid... no, not to remind us about human and civil rights but to compel us to accept "the normality of being raised by a couple made up of a male and a female" and to save us from Mintoffian notions about the privacy of the bedroom. Tommy Lee throws the bible at those that disagree with him and, understandably, provokes the indignation of readers Mark Grech, M. Brincat, Joseph Camilleri and Ramon Casha who regrets our society's "primitiveness".

Colette Farrugia Bennet agrees with the latter and complains that we "are stuck in archaic times". Mario Sammut writes that it is "sad that in the year 2010 we are still discussing gay rights". Maria Fenech says that "at the end it comes all down to the fact that we are still discriminating and haven't learned our lesson". J. Grima describes it all as the "theatre of the abysmally absurd". M. Fenech thinks that "we are still very far from (...) a true, democratic, European country".

James Dimech suspects that all this will lead to a Labour government accepting to pay out more social benefits but Eric Gahn assures him that it will cost him nothing.

Some readers, such as A. Taliana, suspect that the present government is resorting to provocations of our intelligence to distract us from other burning issues. D. Attard suggests that Mr Vassallo was "perhaps thinking in terms of boardrooms rather than bedrooms". What troubles Dominic Chircop "is the thought that Edwin Vassallo is turning his grey cells to such matters". Aleksandar Dimitrijevic advises the chairman of the Committee to peruse work by the American Psychological Association on the issues he raises.

Dr Beppe Fenech Adami gets his share. "Gender stereotyping at its vilest", says M. Jones. D. Vella writes that as "for Mr Fenech Adami's comment about role reversal... that comment says more about him than anything else. The problem is with him". G. Portelli asks him whether he would "care to enlighten us which bits of 'mothering' he found impossible to deliver". Would he also "care to draw up a sanitised list of 'Mothering' and 'Fathering' duties according to his philosophy"?

More next time.

Dr Vella blogs at

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]

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