Monday, 21 January 2013

Are gay marriage and Malta compatible?

20.1.13 by Rachel Bonavia

9th December 2012, Washington, U.S.A. Jessica Lee and Ashley Cavner said “I do”, completing their wedding vows – but do these words also ring true when it comes from a gay couple? They are the state’s first lesbian couple as Washington joined Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont in legalising same-sex marriage in the U.S.

For every U.S. state legalising such marriages, there are others that prohibit it. Indeed on the same day, Tory MP David Davies labelled the UK government’s gay marriage plans as “barking mad”. Gay marriage is legal in eight European countries.

Actress, thirteen-time Emmy award winner and Hilary Clinton's Special Envoy on global AIDS awareness, Ellen DeGeneres, famously said, “I was raised around heterosexuals, as all heterosexuals are, that's where us gay people come from... you heterosexuals.”

In light of such statements, why is gay marriage illegal in Malta? Another, controversial issue - Divorce – was only introduced last year. In March 2012, then Nationalist MP Jeffery Pullicino Orlando proposed the legalisation of gay marriage, which set alarm bells ringing among conservatives. Perhaps the wording of the proposal was what struck at Malta’s religious core. Rather than calling it a civil partnership or cohabitation, JPO called it ‘marriage’.

In 2010, Elton John and his civil partner David Furnish had a son, Zachary, through a surrogate mother. The singer has admitted that even though he has “never seen such a contented child”, his son will struggle with bullying because he doesn't “have a mummy”.

Indeed, when asked about gay marriage many people say they are not against the partnership per se, but mostly the after-effects such as adoption and rights. What is interesting is that without the couple being officially recognised as such, it is perfectly legal for one-half of a gay couple to adopt a child, and then raise it together. Would this automatically become illegal if the couple were recognised?

The Malta Gay Rights Movement has been critical of several legal changes effected during 2012. This includes the cohabitation bill that does not recognise cohabiting partners on the same level as families bourne out of marriage. The movement claims this discriminates against gay couples in the absence of gay marriage.
All in all, one has to wonder why questions such as gay-marriage seem to be avoided by both parties. Could it be the influence of forces such as the Church, both on party members themselves or their voters? It would be difficult to expect MPs to ignore those who vote them into power, or indeed the teaching of the Church they subscribe to. However, isn’t it about time that matters of faith and matters of society found their rightful place? If two atheist gay persons want to marry, why should the vote of an MP with Catholic views prevent that?

One has to consider what such persons will do, should gay marriage not be legalised. Just because partnership is not recognised, it certainly does not mean such persons will not cohabit. These persons will be living together, but without any of the benefits enjoyed by married couples.

Another point to consider is that it is legal for an individual to adopt, but what if that individual is in a gay partnership and then passes away? The other partner – who would in effect have co-raised the child – will have absolutely no right on the child whatsoever. How would this be handled? Could one of the partners effectively leave the child in their will? What would happen if the partner dies intestate? Several things still need to be discussed, such as the ethical ground behind leaving a human being in a will.

With an election looming, one wonders whether any time spent discussing this issue will instead be allotted to electoral campaigns. One hopes that this and other important issues will make it on the agenda of whoever is elected later this year.

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