Sunday, 23 October 2011

Times: University students favour same-sex marriage but parties ‘lag behind’

The time has come for Malta to recognise the partnership rights of same-sex couples, four politicians have argued. From left: Cyrus Engerer, Owen Bonnici and Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando. Photo: Jason Borg

Fifty six per cent of University students believe the time is ripe for Malta to recognise same-sex marriage but four politicians discussing the issue on campus felt the majority of MPs would be against such legislation.

Nationalist MPs Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando and Karl Gouder disowned comments by Deputy Prime Minister Tonio Borg in 2009 insisting what he said reflected his sentiments not the Nationalist Party’s.

At the time, Dr Borg had rhetorically asked Parliament whether the government was going to have to be “lumped” with gay concerns when reforming rent laws. He had subsequently defended his statement, saying the PN was “not a liberal party” and it would only “protect those who deserved protection”.

Dr Pullicino Orlando said yesterday he could not comprehend Dr Borg’s comments.

Mr Gouder said the PN had “finally realised” it had to do more on gay rights issues.

Together with Labour MP Owen Bonnici and Sliema deputy mayor Cyrus Engerer, they were speaking at a University debate organised by the student organisation Move when the findings of a survey on student attitudes to various societal issues were presented.

According to the survey, an absolute majority of the 704 students interviewed favour same-sex marriage, with those in favour increasing by over 13 per cent when compared to last year. A slim majority, 51.1 per cent, remain opposed to same-sex adoption, although those in favour were up by 6.6 per cent when compared to the situation in 2010.

Although all four politicians said they were in favour of according same-sex couples union or partnership rights, only Dr Pullicino Orlando made a direct reference to “gay marriage”.

“I cannot understand how any government or society can oppose the free and responsible choice of two individuals to get married,” he said.

Dr Bonnici agreed, saying there was a need to legislate for some form of same-sex partnership as soon as possible. He stopped short, however, of using the word “marriage”.

The two adopted parallel positions when asked about gay adoption, with Dr Pullicino Orlando openly in favour, saying he could not fathom “what all the fuss was about”, adding that adoption was about love and responsibility not sexual orientation.

Dr Bonnici agreed but said that, while he was personally in favour of same-sex adoption, the public had to be educated further before such a measure was introduced. Parliament is due to discuss a cohabitation Bill in the coming months but details are thin on the ground and it is not clear to what extent will it cater for homosexual couples.

Such a Bill, Dr Bonnici said, could only be a “half-baked measure” for gay couples and was no substitute for adequate legislation on same-sex unions.

Mr Engerer agreed. Telling same-sex couples a cohabitation Bill would cater for their needs was “an insult”. “People living under the same roof do not necessarily share the same bed,” he said.

The Labour convert also fired some salvos at his former party. “The PN is artificial when it comes to LGBT rights,” Mr Engerer said. “As a party, it has done many good things for the country but in 25 years in government it has done nothing for gay rights. Any advances have been forced onto it by the European Commission,” he said.

Mr Gouder disagreed. As Malta’s first declared gay MP, he felt “comfortable within the PN”, which, he said, based its principles on human dignity regardless of sexual orientation.

The four politicians represented the more liberal wing of Maltese politics and all four readily agreed many of their party colleagues would not be as appreciative of gay rights issues as they were. “When it comes to such issues, political parties lag behind Maltese society,” Dr Pullicino Orlando said. “Maltese society has evolved faster than Parliament”.

Alternattiva Demokratika was conspicuous by its absence during the debate and chairman Michael Briguglio said AD had not been invited to take part. “It is very ironic that a student organisation that portrays itself as progressive, such as Move, did not invite the only political party in Malta to take a clear stand in favour of gay marriage,” Dr Briguglio said.

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


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