Monday, 19 November 2012

Malta Today: Is the gay marriage debate sidelining other gay rights?

In Malta, gay men and lesbians must be careful not to put the cart before the wheel especially when gay marriage extends rights to some but not all gay men and lesbians.
Blog Saturday, November 17, 2012 by Joseph Carmel Chetcuti

Let me begin by laying my cards on the table. I support gay marriage. I do so chiefly for two reasons. First, gay men and lesbians have as much right as heterosexuals to be part of a patriarchal and oppressive institution. With that comes the right to ditch one's spouse with the aid and connivance of the State. Secondly, marriage opens the way to a raft of rights that the law denies to other mere mortals.

Even so, I am somewhat uneasy about 'our' obsession with gay marriage.

The modern gay and lesbian movement was not simply a tussle for rights. Most certainly, it entertained no desire to mimic straights or reproduce their language, such as calling one's male partner 'fiancé' or 'husband'. It was all about liberation, sexual liberation, liberation from traditional institutions like marriage, freedom from conventional gender roles and deliverance from heterosexism. Many gay and lesbian groups took great pride in proclaiming 'gay liberation'. Ending equality was a stride towards that liberation, not an end in itself. When we walked the streets of Sydney, London and San Francisco and chanted slogans like "not the Church, not the State, we shall decide our fate" we knew full well what we were demanding. We were not asking the state to give its stamp of approval to our relationships. Yet at the end of the day, what I or anyone else thinks of 'gay marriage' is immaterial. It all boils down to freedom of choice.

Still, gay marriage is not and can never be a panacea to all our ills. After all, there are many partnered gay men and lesbians who want nothing to do with the institution of marriage, not to mention those who are not partnered. When it comes to gay and lesbian rights, Malta faces challenges that are more significant than gay marriage. Malta has no adequate protection against discrimination at work and in the areas of goods and services, accommodation, educational authorities, clubs, sport and local government.

Malta has no anti-vilification legislation. There are no educational programs at schools offering balanced information on sexual orientation and gender identities. Magistrates and judges continue to parade homophobic mind-sets as they go about reinforcing a status quo that is damaging to gay men and lesbians. Conservatives, including priests, peddle in hate on the pretext of freedom of expression, and they do so with impunity. Gay men and lesbians are not permitted to foster or adopt children on the pretext that it is not in their best interest.

Nor must we forget that every so often, the flipside to marriage is divorce or separation, sometimes under the same roof. And gay men and lesbians will be no exception. Some or many of those who will settle for marriage may well find that marriage spells the death of romance - a prelude to divorce. I have often wondered whether this new breed of conformists may well end up doing more damage to the movement than our most strident of critics. What if the divorce rate among gay men and lesbians turns out to be significantly higher than that among heterosexuals? And it will invariably be! No, not because gay men are promiscuous but because society offers little by way of preparation for marriage to gay men and lesbians.

Yet gay marriage is a good thing... for the few. It is part of our gay and lesbian struggle for liberation, never the full story.

In Australia and the United Kingdom, the struggle for gay marriage began to surface only after gay men and lesbians made significant gains and acquired basic human rights. In Malta, gay men and lesbians must be careful not to put the cart before the wheel especially when gay marriage extends rights to some but not all gay men and lesbians. Of course, there are those who toy with the idea that gay marriage will end up subverting the institution of marriage. I think not. More likely it will prop up a crumbling institution and produce a new generation of conservative gay men and lesbians.


Let's face it, marriage - as an institution - has not been particularly gay and lesbian-friendly. Parents have ostracised their gay and lesbian children or forced them into marriages of convenience. Gay men and lesbians have often counteracted by sending up the institution of marriage. Mock marriages have been a staple diet of our humour, and, in Malta, many gay men (and lesbians) have lampooned weddings, especially during Carnival festivities.

I often wonder why we are putting so much energy into 'gay marriage' when so many heterosexuals are deserting it in growing numbers and why we are or appear to be less reluctant to celebrate and take pride in our difference. Are we slowly sliding towards a homonormativity that can be as destructive as its hetero variety? Or are we still finding it hard to think beyond the life of blessed matrimony, as couples? Be that as it may, there is nothing more wonderful than seeing gay men and lesbians mobilise around a single issue, in record numbers, as conservatives squirm at the prospect of two men or two women walking 'down the aisle'.

Joseph Carmel Chetcuti, a barrister and solicitor of the High Court of Australia, is the author of Queer Mediterranean Memories.

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