Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Times: Kill the Cohabitation Bill
Sunday, September 9, 2012 by Mark Anthony Falzon

There are people, and I happen to know a fair few of them, who think of marriage as a claustrophobic, unbearably bourgeois, and property-obsessed institution. They believe that there should properly be no ‘weaker party’ in a relationship and that it follows that there can be no question of passing on pensions, inheritances, and welfare benefits from one partner to another. They tend simply to live together as independent adults, finger held up to the State at all times.

These egalitarian rationalists are in a minority, truth be told. The majority is made up of dreamy incorrigibles who believe that diamonds are forever. They will also swear that the evidence suggests that it’s a wonderful idea to sign a contract promising to stand by one’s partner (or ‘spouse’, as they prefer to call them) till the end of time.

The former type cohabit, the latter get married. In the parlance of the times, we get to celebrate freedom and diversity. But there’s a problem.

The system as widely and traditionally practised leaves out an important chunk of the population, probably about five per cent according to various estimates, who are wired to love people of the same sex. For some reason or other, the second option has tended not to be available to them. That’s a form of discrimination. And since homosexuality harms absolutely no one, it is discrimination of the unacceptable variety.

The simplest and most logical remedy would be to make marriage available to everyone, whatever their amorous inclinations. A very few practically-inclined countries have done that to no apparent catastrophic effect.

For example, an old neighbour of mine moved to Holland five years ago. He loves his wife deeply, their children can walk the streets safely, and their house hasn’t thus far been torched by the crazed offspring of a degenerate society.

But that’s Holland, the place that gave us shoes made of wood and artists with misplaced ears. Countries of a nobler and less savage moral order have preferred to dither and dodge, that is when they’re not busy stringing up homosexuals or forcing them into sham marriages and a general falsity.

Malta, it seems, belongs within these barbicans of respectability. We’ve dithered alright, and now we’ve decided to dodge by proposing a Bill that sweet-talks same-sex couples but denies them the right to get married. (Heterosexuals needn’t bother – for them in fact, the Cohabitation Bill is pointless in its de jure and a form of state meddling in its de facto aspect.)

That’s the easy part of the story. The more colourful bit concerns whether or not and in what ways the Bill squares up with the notion of family.

The two protagonists have so far been Joseph Muscat and the unlikely Chris Said. I’m told Facebook went ballistic following Said’s statement that the Bill does not place cohabiting homosexuals “on the same level as families based on marriage between a man and a woman”. The horror, the outrage, the typical GonziPN narrow-mindedness .

On his part Muscat accused the government of homophobia, adding that politicians have no right to decide what is and what isn’t a family. Question is what to make of these two apparently contrasting positions.

It may be worth referring to one of the most seminal books on kinship to appear in recent years, The Metamorphoses of Kinship by anthropologist Maurice Godelier. At one point Godelier discusses the Pacte Civil de Solidarité (PACS) that was voted into law in France in 1999. It provides for legal recognition of homosexual couples who choose to be bound by a contract but does not give the parties the right to adopt children.

In Godelier’s words, “PACS is a step forward for many living together and sharing their worldly goods, among whom are numbers of homosexuals, but it is fundamentally different from marriage and remains completely dissociated from the family”.

That’s because ‘family’ is not just a couple who live together. Rather, it has pretensions to being a “life-giving reproductive form”. Godelier is talking cultural notions here. He doesn’t necessarily mean that, say, a childless couple are not a family. What he does mean is that unions that preclude, a priori, the possibility of some form of reproduction – through biology, adoption or reproductive technologies – are fundamentally dissociated from ‘family’. Which is why he argues that “ultimately what should retain our attention is not the problem of homosexuality but that of homoparenthood”. In sum Godelier is saying that on same-sex families we either go all the way, or not at all.

Which is very relevant to the political ruck I referred to earlier. Let’s start with Chris Said, who is right about being wrong. Certainly the Bill won’t put cohabiting couples on the same level as families based on marriage between a woman and a man. But that’s only because the Bill is flawed and discriminatory in the first place. It has nothing to do with the intrinsic values of the two types.

Muscat is doubly wrong. First, it is nonsensical to say that politicians have no right to decide what does and what doesn’t constitute a family. The whole point of legislation is in fact that definition.

That’s also because a lot depends on it, from access to welfare to the didactics of the parks għall-familja (family parks) mushrooming all over the islands. Muscat, like most other politicians, has a declared stake in family. He can’t just take it back whenever it suits him and expect us to take him seriously.

Nor does he have a right to call government homophobic without bringing to mind sooty utensils. I am not aware that or the PL have ever remotely suggested that homosexual people should be allowed to get married and have pretensions to forming life-giving reproductive units, i.e. families.

Unless he is prepared to tell us why he thinks they shouldn’t, he is as homophobic as the rest of the lot and no amount of LGBT-Labour fluff is going to change that.

The Bill proposes to give rights to people who don’t need and/or want them and deny them to those who do. It is quite simply an ass’s ass.

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