29 May 2012
by Keith Micallef
PN backbencher Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando lashed out at the government for procrastinating to legislate for the introduction of IVF and a cohabitation bill including some form of legal recognition to same-sex unions.
Addressing the media, on the occasion marking the first anniversary of the divorce referendum in which the majority voted in favour of the introduction for this right, Dr Pullicino Orlando used harsh words for several members of Cabinet accusing them of buckling under the pressure of the ecclesiastical authorities.
The Nationalist MP, who in July 2010 had tabled the private members’ bill for the introduction of divorce, claimed that the Prime Minister had not kept his word as he had promised to introduce a law regarding IVF exactly a year ago. Regarding the cohabitation bill, he quoted Justice Minister Chris Said who had publicly said that the bill would be enacted by the beginning of next month.
Asked by The Malta Independent on his position regarding adoption by same-sex couples once he was in favour of gay marriages, Dr Pullicino Orlando replied in the affirmative adding that there is nothing at present barring such adoptions. He added that he is aware of gay couples who have already adopted children, describing them as happy couples living a normal life. The PN backbencher urged the government to legislate to protect the rights of such children in case one of their parents passes away, as at present they may end up in an orphanage. Labour candidate Cyrus Engerer interjected and said that as far as gay couples are concerned, the well being of the children is first and foremost. His remark sparked controversy with some of the journalists pointing out that such requests are much more likely to arise by gay couples wishing to become parents at all costs rather than from the children themselves. Dr Deborah Schembri who was at the forefront of the divorce movement last year and is now a Labour candidate, tried to calm matters claiming that nobody has the right to impose their views on what is deemed as normal, stating that there are various forms of families and not exclusively those formed by a man and woman.
In his address Dr Pullicino Orlando criticised Health Minister Joe Cassar and Gozo Minister Giovanna Debono who recently unveiled with great pomp Napro Technology at the Gozo Hospital which they described as a major breakthrough to support couples with infertility complications. He quoted Prof Pierre Mallia who is the ethics advisor of the Medical Council who described this technology as nothing more than a repackaged form of traditional family planning. He illustrated his argument stating that this was similar to rebranding the can of baked beans which he placed in front of him at the beginning of the address while trying to give the impression of announcing a revolutionary product.
Dr Pullicino Orlando accused Gozo bishop Mario Grech and other Church officials of mounting pressure on the government. He backed his argument stating that one particular government MP had recently declared in Parliament his objection for condom dispensing machines in University and that the Church authorities were handed a draft copy of the national sexual health policy prior to its launch.
Dr Deborah Schembri described the introduction of divorce as a smooth transition. She remarked that contrary to what had been forecasted by the no movement there was not a rush of people queuing in court to request divorce. In the first two months an average of 80 requests were made, mainly by couples who had been separated for long with the situation stabilising in the following months with an average of 40 to 50 requests for divorce each month. Regarding some remarks made by Mgr Anton Gouder about the substantial amount of requests made by one member of the couple rather than jointly, Dr Schembri said that in the majority of cases couples were no longer in contact and so this was the only way. She added that the only cases were divorce was not granted was either because one of the parts was not honouring the maintenance grants agreement or due to some legal flaws in the request itself. Dr Schembri also welcomed the fact that these grants have now been extended up to the age of 23.
Labour MP Evarist Bartolo looked back at last year’s campaign and said he was relishing the moment for cross party collaboration to grant more civil rights. He said that his greatest satisfaction so far was that of meeting couples who had started a new life thanks to the introduction of divorce.