Article published on 30 August 2012;
Malta Gay Rights Movement chairperson Gaby Calleja described the proposed Cohabitation Bill as “a bit of mish-mash between cohabitation and civil partnership offering minimal rights”, while noting that anything less than civil union is not acceptable.
The MGRM met Justice, Public Consultation and Family Minister Chris Said earlier this year and presented its position paper to him. The movement is “disgusted” that the government continues to deny that same-sex couples constitute a family – something offensive to the LGBT community in general.
The Bill launched for consultation on Tuesday is entitled ‘Act to Provide for the Regulation of Cohabitation’. It recognises same-sex relationships and heterosexual couples living together, and introduces some rights and obligations which are mainly financial.
Reacting to Minister Said’s replies to questions following the Bill’s launch, Ms Calleja continued that the government should not be speaking in such a way because this amounts to homophobia.
“Had the law been introduced 10 years ago, it might have been a step in the right direction but society has moved on a lot since,” she said. “The Bill is only at par with what countries in the Eastern European bloc have and where holding a pride march is a problem”.
Commenting on the fact that Minister Said was one of the government members who attended the Gay Pride March in Sliema, early last month, Ms Calleja said there seems to have been very different expectations from the government but the minister is not in touch with reality.
“What the government believes in is an insult, a slap in the face,” she remarked.
So far, any single person can have or adopt children but the second parent in a gay couple cannot adopt the child. The fact that second parent adoption is not included in the proposed Bill is detrimental to the child, Ms Calleja said. It is not acceptable to say ‘we (government) do not believe gay couples are a family’.
Replying to a question that children in gay unions are perhaps the most sensitive and controversial issue because society may not be ready to accept such situations, Ms Calleja said: “We are against a piecemeal approach as this would be more complicated in legal terms and does not lead to equality. For us marriage is equality”.
In a statement, Alternattiva Demokratika said it believes there should be full equality in all aspects of social and family policy, irrespective of one’s sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
Chairperson Michael Briguglio said: “AD has long believed in equality for all in social and family rights. I am proud to announce that AD is endorsing MGRM’s position regarding marriage equality. Equality can only materialise by having one institution for both different-sex and same-sex couples. Recognition of same-sex couples in marriage would lead to the strengthening of the concept of the family. More and more societies and political parties are increasingly recognising this. Within the EU, the influence of the European Greens is of great importance for such progressive change”.
AD is also supporting MGRM’s Gender Identity Act proposal, which calls for expedient legal gender recognition and for gender reassignment procedures under the national health care service. As regards the current IVF debate, AD believes there should be no form of discrimination in access to this right. Hence, for example, one should not be discriminated against on the basis of one’s sexual orientation.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party has taken the back seat on the issue over the past two days and has not made any statements. Contacted for comments, a party spokesperson said: “Opposition Leader Joseph Muscat has long taken the lead and publicly stated that he is in favour of civil unions for gay couples. That position stands. However, the PL will wait for the Bill to be presented in Parliament before making remarks”.
Owen Bonnici, the PL’s spokesperson for Higher Education, University, Research and Culture said that while he still needs to study the Bill, it disappointed him a lot when it comes to gay rights.
“We cannot equate gay couples with couples who do not want to get married,” he said. “Why not give them the tools to get married?’
He is all for civil unions which give gay couples all the rights of a married couple but is not referred to as marriage. The Bill only gives gay people or any partner in cohabitation, next of kin rights – small things in comparison to the rights married people have.
When it comes to the second parent in a gay couple adopting a child, he said things need to improve but this change may need to be implemented gradually so that children would not be discriminated against.
Independent MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando said he will be meeting with stakeholders including the MGRM and mostly individuals who militate in favour of gay rights but said the Bill is a step in the right direction. In the meantime, he believes there is some fine tuning to be made. He has expressed these thoughts with Minister Said who is totally on board.
When pressed to react to comments that Dr Pullicino Orlando in the past said he is in favour of gay marriages and now is saying this Bill is a step in the right direction when it is being described as an insult by gay people, he replied: “It is definitely a step in the right direction although there is more to be done”.
Later on, in a post on his Facebook group page he wrote: “A family is the basic unit of any given society and is composed of two or more people who share goals and values, have long-term commitments to one another, usually reside in the same home and are bound together by love. Sexuality is irrelevant”.