Thursday, 8 March 2012

Independent: Homosexual hate crimes: A positive knee-jerk reaction
09 February 2012

This week's announcement that, at long last, something is to be done about one of the most glaring lacunas in Malta's legislation of the 21st century – the lack of protection for its citizens against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, in all its insidious guises – would have been incredibly positive.

'Would have been' because all that was really announced was that the justice minister has been instructed to consult and to continue making the necessary legislative changes that had been started by his predecessor. What those changes will be at the end of the day will remain to be seen, how far reaching they will be and whether they have been mere token legal amendments will also need to be determined.

In the meantime, one simply needs to question why it has taken so long for matters to have reached this juncture, a juncture that most countries in the rest of the Western world successfully navigated many years, if not decades, ago? In other words, why has it taken the government so long to legislate in favour of basic rights for homosexuals?

This week's announcement could be considered a knee-jerk reaction to two recent cases of alleged violence against homosexuals, although one case is a little vaguer in such terms than the other, but the urging by the Prime Minister to speed up that process is nonetheless positive.

For, truth be told, Malta's track record when it comes to according rights, any rights, to homosexuals – including the right to not be beaten because of your sexual orientation – is pretty lousy and there is huge scope for improvement.

It was the Prime Minister who yesterday cited the laws of the country as being a reflection of its values. But are these values of equality and tolerance really values that we are all of a sudden discovering we hold dear?

The answer is a clear 'no'. The vast majority of people in this country are not bigots, are not homophobic and they hold their own personal freedoms and those of others dear - but their laws have failed to reflect those values, and our parliamentarians have also failed to correct this gross injustice faced on so many levels by so many within our society.

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 to lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) people must now be thoroughly addressed. By not having legislation in place to protect and provide rights for this minority, it is the state itself that is practicing discrimination.

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.

For starters, the country's very equality watchdog, unbelievably, does not carry the remit to take action against cases of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, but it can do so, for example, on the grounds of gender discrimination.

LGBT couples, to this day, enjoy no recognition or rights in any way shape of form – in terms of succession rights, cohabitation rights, death bed rights and in so many other areas - and it is only now that political parties are discussing introducing some form of LGBT rights. And although positive, those discussions need to be significantly widened.

Last June, Malta signed on to the United Nations' landmark resolution that for the first time endorsed the rights of LGBT people, which 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".

Malta signed on that day, and now it is time to begin putting those words into action. Homophobia, hate crimes and discrimination in all its ugly, malicious forms – violent and non-violent - can only be stamped out when, first and foremost, the correct laws are put in place.

Let that process, as urged by the Prime Minister this week, be hastened and concluded without further delay.

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