Saturday, 31 July 2010

Times: Portugal, Argentina and soon…
Friday, 30th July 2010 by John Attard Montalto

It is not every day that it is put to me that I am a pillar of society and model of decorum. So it was with both hands that I gratefully accepted the implication when, the other week, a journalist asked me if I intended to attend the Gay Pride march in Valletta. Usually, the people who are asked such a question are those expected to reinforce the dignity and authority of the statement being made by the marchers.

My reply was that I would not be attending. And, indeed, I did not. My non-attendance had nothing to do either with “previous engagements” or with a lack of support for the general cause of greater civil rights for “gay people” in Malta (that is, the entire range of people represented by the Malta Gay Rights Movement).

If I am prepared to declare my support for gay marriage publicly, why not participate in a Gay Pride March, as well? For a while, I thought the answer had to do strictly with my personal temperament. Now, I am inclined to think there are some broader issues.

I do not feel comfortable participating in marches, although I sometimes have. I feel like a fish out of the water. I fully respect those of my colleagues, across the political spectrum, who attend such events. I cannot help noticing, however, that film footage tends to show politicians behaving differently from most other marchers. While the latter carry placards, whistle and make boisterous noises, politicians tend to walk in the company of a colleague, making casual small talk or somehow looking aloof enough to suggest that they are, at the same time, there and not there.

I am sure their presence is appreciated. But I would myself feel uncomfortable and out of place. Moreover, I would look it. I think the Gay Pride organisers deserve better than that.

The discomfort has nothing to do with the issue itself. The Love Parade, which was recently in the news because of the tragic deaths in Duisburg, Germany, was originally connected not with Gay Pride but with international peace and justice, issues that I took an active interest in at around the same time that the first Love Parade was held in (West) Berlin. However, I never participated in that, either. Parades are not my thing.

So far, so personal. What are the wider implications?

I think that, as far as discomfort about participating in marches is concerned, I am fairly typical of a large segment of the population. However, for those who feel uncomfortable about participating in a Gay Pride march, it may be easy to feel that this discomfort might have to do with a discomfort with the issue itself.

However, the two should be kept separate, especially by journalists trying to understand the level of support for gay rights by looking at willingness to participate in Gay Pride marches. Otherwise, an interesting shift in popular attitudes may be missed.

It was towards the end of last year that the student organisation, Move, published the result of a survey it conducted. It showed that almost half (49 per cent) of the University students surveyed were in favour of gay marriage. Another 16 per cent were undecided. Granted, the survey was not scientific. However, in terms of showing a general trend, it was consonant with other international developments.

Gay marriage laws are usually associated with liberal states like The Netherlands and the Nordic ones. Yet, worldwide, of the 10 states that permit gay marriage (as distinct from civil unions), three are now “Latin”. They are equal to the three Nordic states that permit it. Moreover, this year has seen two of these Latin states introduce gay marriage. Portugal did so earlier this year; Argentina earlier this month.

It is likely that other Latin American states will soon follow. These are countries whose populations still overwhelmingly identify themselves as “Roman Catholic”.

An international culture change is afoot when it comes to marriage that is now finding roots even in those countries whose culture was considered to be inhospitable to gay rights. Politicians and policymakers ought to pay close attention.

Dr Attard Montalto is a Labour member of the European Parliament.

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

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