Friday, 8 July 2011

MaltaToday: Struggling for equality


Direct confrontation: Gabi Calleja (right) faces 'gay converter' pastor Gordon-John Manché

On the occasion of Pride Week, Gabi Calleja, chairperson of the Malta Gay Rights Movement, talks about the continuing struggle towards equality for the gay community in Malta.

I am Pride is being celebrated in Malta between the 4 and 13 July and will include a march, a film festival and Womenspace event (an art and music festival exclusively organised by and for women).

However, the week will deal with more than just the joys of being homosexual, as some important issues will be discussed at a seminar on the legal recognition of same sex couples in collaboration with the US Embassy.

The cohabitation bill proposed by Evarist Bartolo has given rise to concerns from the Malta Gay Movement regarding the legal recognition of same sex couples.

"We are opposing the cohabitation bill as it does not recognise the couple. What we are striving for is equality for gay members of the community in all things.

"An ideal situation is that same sex marriages would be allowed with legal rights for same sex couples being the same as those for heterosexual couples with the same abilities to adopt and foster children."

However Calleja realises that this is not really a realistic outcome, given the current climate. The next best option would be civil unions, with the possibility of adopting children. Failing that, another option would be a civil partnership which recognises the couple without providing for the adoption or fostering of children.

"A lot more goes into the legal recognition of a couple than simply having children. Being allowed to have joint tax returns, allowing for widows' pensions, urgent family leave and inheritance legislation and freedom of movement resulting in citizenships are issues that concern same sex couples currently living together.

"Although it is uncertain as to how the cohabitation bill is to work, it is unlikely that these issues will be addressed. What we know for sure is that it will be designed to protect the 'weaker' partner and will most likely cover concerns over housing."

Calleja is encouraged by the result of the divorce referendum, appreciating how Maltese society has come a long way over the past years. "It would have been very difficult for a society to be in favour of equality for same sex couples if it was opposed to divorce."

Acceptance of homosexuals as part of society is improving. However, Calleja says that there are still problems when discussing gay couples having children. Here, she added there are major concerns.

"Gay couples are having families. Whether gay women are getting pregnant through artificial insemination or adopting as single mothers or fathers, they are still creating their own family structures. It's the State that needs to catch up with the reality. People don't need permission from the State to have a child."

Calleja claims that state legislation favouring same sex families will only help the children already being born into these families.

"Currently, if a person in a same sex relationship adopts a child, they have to do so as a single parent. Similarly, gay women having children through artificial insemination cannot list their partner on the birth certificate. This creates complications in day-to-day matters. If the guardian of the child is overseas (leaving the child in the care of his/her partner) and the child needs to be taken to hospital, doubts over who can take necessary decisions occur as the partner is not recognised legally."

In the UK, a gay couple who have a child through artificial insemination is allowed to put both partners' names on the birth certificate, however once returning to Malta, when the child is registered, parents have to choose who is going to be the child's legal guardian. "It is the ultimately the child who is losing out on coming to Malta."

Gender identity is also of major concern for the MGRM. Following the refusal of the court to accept the change of gender of Joanne Cassar, Calleja is concerned that the Proposed Gender Identity Act for Malta has been put on a back burner.

Cassar took the Marriage Registry to court when it refused to issue marriage banns for her and her fiancé on the grounds that the Marriage Act prohibited unions between persons of the same gender, despite the fact that Cassar's birth certificate has been amended post-surgery to reflect her gender change.

When Cassar lost the appeal, the case was referred to the European Court of Human Rights and is now pending.

"The Proposed Gender Identity Act for Malta has been put on hold until the outcome of the constitutional case at the European Court of Human Rights. This is just Tonio Borg's way of stalling the process.

"The Gender Identity Act is more than just about the right to get married. It is a matter for the individual to decide and that the State is duty bound to respect this identity by granting full and effective legal recognition. Anything less than this violates the right of the individual to self-determination and often leads to a violation of the transgender person's rights to a private and family life."

Calleja is confident that the the European Court will rule in favour of Cassar, and that the State will be bound to recognise Cassar as a woman for all intents and purposes.

"On a positive note, once judgment is handed out, the case will serve as a model for countries which have not even come as far as Malta. It is only a shame that Cassar has to live it."

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