12 February 2012 by STEPHEN CALLEJA
The Prime Minister's decision to call for stiffer punishment for people found guilty of what he termed 'hate crimes' came like a bolt out of the blue. But it could have the reverse effect, as it is putting homosexuals on higher ground than heterosexuals. STEPHEN CALLEJA analyses the consequences
The Prime Minister's announcement that he has requested the laws concerning hate crime against homosexuals to be strengthened was a surprise move.
Whether it is intended as a political ploy to attract the votes of the gay community in Malta is not known. It is common knowledge that people who feel discriminated against and who believe that society treats them unfairly attach great importance to declarations that matters will improve for them.
And therefore it is possible that, at a time when the government is under pressure on other, more important issues, this idea was considered because it could sway gays and lesbians in the government's favour. Anything for a few extra votes. Added to this, it seems that the Nationalist Party is trying to appear more liberal in its ideas, perhaps in a bid to build bridges after the way it tackled the divorce issue.
Heterosexuals do not vote in favour of one party or another on matters related to their sexual orientation. But it is more likely that gays and lesbians – believing that society is not doing much for them – do consider their personal situation and the way political parties see them before casting their vote.
Such a move however is bound to create controversy.
There was a time when the interests of minorities, or of certain sectors of society that did not fall within certain parameters, were ignored. More than this, there was a time when people committing a crime against homosexuals were considered heroes and walked away scot free.
This was a bad thing.
But we seem to have come to a point where we have gone, or are going, in the opposite direction.
In order to be seen as being inclusive, society is going to the other extreme of giving extra privileges to these groups. As it does not want to be seen as being discriminatory against homosexuals in any way, society is affording them better treatment or, at best, offering more protection to them than to others.
This, to put it bluntly, is discriminatory against the rest of the population.
Certain sections of the media have exaggerated the incidents that have occurred, the ones that led the Prime Minister to hastily call up the media and tell them he was requesting stiffer laws against hate crime. (That the PM did not take questions from journalists is not the right way of doing things, but that is another matter.) It is still doubtful whether the incidents in question were hate crimes, but that will be left to the courts to decide.
But, other than this, to have a situation that distinguishes between people is not the way forward. We have gone from a time when gays were outcasts to a time when we are rolling out a red carpet for them. Whether a person is heterosexual or gay, he or she should be treated the same in the eyes of the law.
If the Prime Minister's request goes through, we will have laws that put gays and lesbians on a higher pedestal than heterosexuals – laws that consider a crime against homosexuals as being worse than a similar one committed against heterosexuals.
If, for example, a heterosexual couple is attacked while walking in a public garden, nobody would speak of a hate crime. The perpetrators, once caught, are taken to court and, if found guilty, they will be given "X" punishment.
But if the same thing happened to a gay couple walking in the same public garden in the same circumstances, the perpetrators, again if caught and if found guilty, will be liable to receive an "X plus" punishment – for no other reason except for the sexual orientation of the couple who was attacked.
This is not fair.
Most of all, having this distinction in the law would put homosexuals on a sounder footing and gives them an easy excuse to put all the blame on the aggressors. There have been occasions when homosexuals were the ones who started a fight, who provoked others into a fight or who reacted aggressively to the justified complaints of people around them, and then claimed that their sexual orientation was the cause of them being attacked.
Are we going to have a situation in which a homosexual and a heterosexual share equal blame for an incident, but the homosexual gets an "X" punishment and the heterosexual gets "X plus", just because he is not gay?
If a straight guy spills a glass of beer on another straight guy and they end up fighting, will it be considered as being less of a crime than when a homosexual spills a glass of beer on a straight guy and the latter punches the gay person in the face?
This is not fair either. Giving homosexuals the right to claim a hate crime, whatever happens to them, is not the correct way forward, and there is a chance that this will increase negative sentiments against gays and lesbians.
Everyone has a right to live his or her life the way he or she wants to, but everyone's responsibility is to refrain from behaving in such a way as to be a nuisance to others. It is one thing holding hands or giving a kiss on the lips (we don't want to become like Iran, do we?) but it is an altogether different matter when couples behave indecently.
If a heterosexual couple fondle each other on a bus or in a public place it is just as wrong when a homosexual couple does the same thing. The public has the right to react when behaviour verges on the indecent or is outright indecent, whether it is committed by a heterosexual or homosexual couple.
And homosexual couples do not have the right to hit someone who tells them to behave decently any more than heterosexual couples do.