20 October 2011, by Francesca Vella
Four politicians, three of whom are MPs, argued in favour of civil unions for gay and lesbian people yesterday, and among other things, they raised the issue of gay adoption, with Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando asking: “What’s the issue all about, as long as the parents are responsible people?”
Dr Pullicino Orlando, together with Nationalist MP Karl Gouder, Labour MP Owen Bonnici and Sliema deputy mayor Cyrus Engerer, were participating in a debate on campus organised by student organisation Move, following a presentation of the results of a survey among university students carried out during Freshers’ Week. A random sample of 704 university students was collected, with a 95% confidence level and a 3.56% confidence interval. The survey was conducted by BDC Ltd for Move – Progressive Students.
The results show that 56.5% of university students are in favour of the recognition of same-sex marriages, while 32% are against, but the majority of students are against same-sex couples being given the opportunity to adopt a child (51%). A total of 30% of the participants are in favour, and 18% are still undecided. Compared to last year’s statistics, this represents an increase of 6.6% in favour of gay adoption.
The number of people in favour of the recognition of same-sex marriage increased significantly (by 13%) from last year.
Commenting on the results, Mr Engerer, who resigned from the PN and joined the Labour Party a few months ago, noted that while the people’s mentality is changing, as was demonstrated in the divorce referendum, members of parliament are often detached from reality – something that Dr Pullicino Orlando also brought up during the debate.
In certain areas, society evolved more than political parties, said the MP who had presented the Private Member’s Bill proposing the introduction of divorce referendum.
Talking about same-sex marriage, Dr Pullicino Orlando equated it to the idea of divorce and being given another chance to get married, and asked how politicians can possibly fail to legislate in favour of two people taking a responsible decision to get married.
On gay adoption, Labour MP Owen Bonnici said he is personally in favour, but insisted that it needs to be ensured that society is ready for it.
“What worries me is that society could end up rebelling against adopted children whose parents are homosexual,” he said, proposing the idea of allocating a short period dedicated to a form of education and information campaign on the matter.
“I feel there needs to be more discussion and more dissemination of information for people to form an opinion. We need to fill the vacuum with a debate.”
Here, Dr Pullicino Orlando disagreed, saying that the vacuum should be filled with positive action, which is a reflection of the attitude he had adopted when he presented the Bill on divorce.
He argued that by saying it may not be the right time for the introduction of same-sex marriage, for instance, gay and lesbian people are going to keep suffering.
The four politicians also spoke about the long-awaited law on cohabitation, saying that they hoped the Bill would be put up for discussion as soon as possible.
Mr Engerer said that it would be insulting if same-sex relationships are dealt with in the cohabitation Bill as this would mean that an intimate relationship between two men or two women would be put on the same footing as a relationship between a brother and a sister living under the same roof.
“Gay people want politicians who aren’t hypocrites. We want to know where we stand with the political parties,” said Mr Engerer, referring to, among other things, the fact that Nationalist MEPs David Casa and Simon Busuttil had abstained in a European Parliament vote on a measure in favour of the legal protection of a number of minority groups who suffer discrimination on the grounds of religion, disability and sexual orientation.
Meanwhile, Nationalist MP Karl Gouder was asked how he feels about being gay and a member of the Nationalist Party.
“I am very comfortable in the PN. My choice to join the party was based on a number of issues. The PN is realising that we have to do much more,” he said, referring to issues related to limitations due to one’s sexual orientation.
During yesterday’s debate, Dr Bonnici and Dr Pullicino Orlando also raised the issue of Joanne Cassar, who had gender reassignment surgery done and has been seeking the right to get married since 2006.
Dr Pullicino Orlando said Ms Cassar was being persecuted, while Dr Bonnici asked why the government had to embark on such a “mission” to make sure she doesn’t get married.
Other survey results
In the survey, students were also asked for their views on the pensions system, racism, the financial crisis, public transport and stipends.
On the pensions system, only 13.4% of students believe that the current public pension scheme will provide adequate pensions for their generation, while 53.7% are against and 33% are unsure.
Asked whether they believe that Malta can be considered a success story of a multi-cultural society in Europe, the majority (46.7%) replied in the negative, and on the financial crisis, 51.8% of the students replied in the affirmative when asked whether they believe that young people today can be as ambitious as previous generations, considering the current economic hardships.
On public transport, 56.3% of university students use buses; of these, 60.6% are not satisfied with the current system, and when they were asked about the stipends, a strong majority (73.4%) of the students do not believe that a stipend of €84 is enough to cover students’ expenses.