Saturday, 21 January 2012

Independent: MGRM appeals for civil unions for same-sex couples
14 January 2012 by Chiara Bonello

In a report which aims to highlight the injustice created by the current scenario and appeal for marriage equality, the Malta Gay Rights Movement is appealing for same-sex couples to be allowed to marry civilly.

The aim of the position paper on marriage equality, which was launched yesterday, is to provide input to a national discussion on the recognition of marriage equality in Malta and ultimately that civil marriage is permitted, as for different-sex couples.

As it is, just three EU member states lag behind Malta in the Rainbow Europe Country Index, which rates each country's laws and administrative practices which protect or violate the human rights of LGBT people, based on 16 different categories.

These countries are Latvia, Poland and Cyprus, the latter faring the worst of all. Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands are the EU member states which rank highest, and Iceland also ranks very highly.

Countries which have recognised marriage equality include the US, Portugal, Mexico and Sweden, as well as the most recent, Argentina.

The report, drawn up by Neil Falzon and Carla Camilleri, also lists a table of rights and duties associated with marriage, ranging from rights to a family and children, and others such as succession and employment rights.

Dr Falzon emphasised that civil marriage is an institution independent of Canon Law and the ecclesiastical authorities and, as such, should not be construed on the basis of religious belief. Furthermore defining marriage in terms of procreation potential excludes and offends those marriages and family units that, for whatever reason, do not include children.

The report concludes that the right to marry is a fundamental human right enshrined in the major international and regional instruments. Marriage equality discussions should be approached with a rights-based argumentation which acknowledges this inherent right to marry.

Since marriage equality, and its eventual inclusion in national legislation, does not have any long-term negative impact on the meaning and institution of marriage, it should not be perceived as a legal or social threat.

In fact, the report quotes a study on the impact of gay marriage on heterosexuals, which looked at Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and the Netherlands, and found that there is no logical connection between the policy debate and heterosexual behaviour and attitudes towards marriage. It also found no differences between countries which do and don't recognise same-sex marriages.

Cohabiting same-sex couples are a family unit and should enjoy the protection of the law through a form of recognition as such, and not as any other form of relationship.

Furthermore, the best interests of a child should always be a primary consideration, and it is in the best interests of the child to enjoy a relationship with their parents that is recognised and protected by the law, regardless of whether they share a biological link.

Adoption should be made available without discrimination based on the child's birth status or the parents' marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity. Evaluation of someone's parental skills should not distinguish between homosexual and heterosexual people, but take into account the potential for offering a child an environment conducive to their well-being.

The report also concludes that the Maltese authorities should not ignore the financial implications of becoming an international marriage destination. It points out that since different-sex couples choose to get married in Malta due to conditions such as climate, this could potentially create a market for same-sex marriages

Speaking during the launch, Gabi Calleja said MGRM has been advocating the legal recognition of same-sex couples and their families since its inception in 2001, while being aware that this would be a long and difficult struggle.

Ms Calleja said that LGBT people have been excluded from public policy definitions of family and have looked in disbelief as the Constitutional Court refused a transsexual woman the right to marry, as well as the concern of those with partners from third countries, who might be refused a visa.

"The introduction of divorce legislation and the announcement by the government of its intention to introduce cohabitation legislation has possibly brought forward this campaign," she said, adding that MGRM has always expressed its disagreement with the fact that the potential cohabitation law fails to recognise the relationship between same-sex couples.

Marriage equality is the only option that provides the same status and rights available to opposite-sex couples and their children, and is the simplest form of recognition to introduce, requiring minor adjustments to our legal framework, she said.

Ms Calleja said the discrimination experienced by same-sex couples is no longer tenable in today's world and MGRM will not stop its efforts, until its goal has been achieved.

"No harm ensues to society from the granting of equal rights to same-sex couples and therefore any delay cannot be morally justified. On the contrary there are significant benefits to same-sex couples and their children as well, as such legislation sending a clear message that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation should never be condoned. Equality is not a luxury, it is a basic human right and the time for it is now," she said.

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