Sunday 16 September 2012 - 15:00 by Miriam Dalli
Nationalist MP Karl Gouder
Nationalist MP Karl Gouder, the first openly gay MP elected to Parliament, has insisted that gay couples are a family just like any other heterosexual married couple.
The 33-year-old MP from St Julian's however expressed his satisfaction with the fact that a draft cohabitation bill had finally been published. "The bill has been in the making for a long time and it's been quite a while that we have realised that regulating cohabitation was needed," Gouder said.
Gouder said the bill would provide cohabiting couples a more secure environment.
But despite the gay lobby's vocal criticism of the proposed law's view of homosexual couples as regulated by the cohabitation bill, Gouder says the draft satisfies the regulation of cohabiting couples.
"You would understand that as a gay person, I would agree that at the end of the day gay couples are a family as much as any heterosexual married couple would be. Therefore the same rights and obligations should be granted.
"Maltese society is slowly changing... maybe the presence of people like myself in parliament is contributing to this change. However this is a different argument and doesn't lessen the need for a bill to regulate cohabitation."
Gouder argued that the cohabitation bill would still be needed even if gay marriage became a reality. "When and if we get there, a totally different bill will be required."
Gouder conceded that the cohabitation bill as presented by Family Minister Chris Said was a step in the right direction. "I for one will keep on working within the Nationalist Party so as to recognise all the rights and obligations that homosexual couples do rightly expect," he said.
During the launch of the draft cohabitation bill, Justice Minister Chris Said said that the proposed law would not put same-sex relationships on the same level as families formed in marriages.
The bill, expected to be debated in parliament next month, doesn't deal with the cohabitation of relatives - such as siblings of parent-child family units - but for couples in a committed relationship.
But the long-overdue bill - promised by the Nationalist Party back in its 1998 electoral manifesto - was met with an avalanche of criticism by the Malta Gay Rights Movement and human rights advocates such as aditus.
MGRM coordinator Gabi Calleja said it was "hugely disappointing" that the bill did not provide the minimal level of recognition acceptable, that is civil unions at par with marriage.
Aditus didn't mince its words in describing the bill as "a regrettable failure based on a zero-starting point" and noted that most of the rights mentioned in the bill are already accessible today by anyone.
Reacting to the criticism, Chris Said insisted that Maltese laws do not give a definition to the family. "Marriage laws give a clear definition of what marriage is. The cohabitation law does not go into this matter, because it regulates cohabitation, for heterosexuals and homosexuals, as a state of fact outside of marriage."