Sunday, 18 September 2011

Independent: LGBT rights
Article published on 18 September 2011

In June, for the first time ever, the United Nations endorsed the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The resolution expressed “grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity”.

More importantly, it also established a formal UN process to document human rights abuses against homosexuals, including discriminatory laws and acts of violence.

A White House statement on the day read: “This marks a significant milestone in the long struggle for equality, and the beginning of a universal recognition that (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) persons are endowed with the same inalienable rights - and entitled to the same protections - as all human beings.”

Malta too signed on that day, and now it is time to begin putting those words into action. Here in Malta, LGBT people are certainly not “endowed with the same inalienable rights - and entitled to the same protections - as all human beings” as Washington so aptly put it.

Token appearances at the yearly gay pride march will no longer suffice, nor will the presence of a couple open homosexuals in political parties.

Following the legislation of divorce, the single largest blemish on Malta’s civil rights record that needs to be addressed, for the good of those directly affected as well as for the overall good of the country, are the rights of the LGBT minority.

Just as divorce was a civil right that has now rightly been accorded to a minority of the population, the civil rights, or, rather, the complete lack thereof, accorded of LGBT people must now be addressed. That is because, by not having legislation in place to protect and provide rights for this minority, it is the state itself that is practicing discrimination.

Fortunately, in Malta homosexuals are not the subject of rampant violence as is the case in some places, but discrimination in all its insidious forms is still very much prevalent. And although homosexuality, along with adultery, was decriminalised in Malta in the 1970s, the country’s legal structures themselves are still unquestionably discriminatory toward homosexuals.

Incredibly, the government body that should be assigned the area of LGBT discrimination - the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality - is prevented by its very remit from taking action against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and our lawmakers turn a consistent blind eye to the gaping legal lacuna in which LGBT couples enjoy no recognition or rights in any way shape of form.

The cohabitation-bill-in-the-making that had reared its head during the divorce debate - the draft bill that the government did not want the electorate to see until after the divorce referendum, and which still has not seen the light of day - must provide for rights for LGBT couples, and not force homosexuals into the demeaning position of having to declare themselves as flatmates to benefit from the bill, as this newspaper has been informed, and as it has reported.

Without same sex marriage, some European countries have introduced the civil partnership concept as a way of conferring upon LGBT people large swathes of the rights accorded to married couples, and also allow their relationships to be recognised and recorded, as a valid means of addressing the legal limbo and vulnerabilities that LGBT couples live with.

But, in Malta, as evidenced by draft plans for the cohabitation bill which we had published back at the height of the divorce debate, it seems that those who formulate the laws that we live with cannot, or are unwilling to, get their heads around the very concept of an LGBT couple.

It is time that we start acting on this minority’s rights. Malta has signed the UN’s LGBT resolution, now those words need to be put into concrete action.

Homophobia, hate crimes and discrimination in all its ugly, malicious forms – both hidden and open – can only begin to significantly abate when, first and foremost, the correct laws are put in place. It is only then that society as a whole will have the message drummed home. The powers that be must lead by example. Fortunately, in Malta, there are many people willing to take this lead themselves, with or without any such ‘guidance’. Their sense of common decency, respect and tolerance is enough guidance for them.

It is only when full civil rights are accorded to the full population that we can say that we are a fully civil society. There is a large missing piece in Malta’s civil and human rights legislation, it is high time that abyss was filled.

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