Thursday, 04 April 2013, 08:33
Malta is at long last coming out of the dark woods it has inhabited for the last decades when it comes to the rights of homosexual and transgender rights, as evidenced by yesterday’s announcement that the previous administration’s fight against a transgender person’s right to marry has been dropped by the new government.
The country, as far as the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) people are concerned, has been a cultural backwater and this complete change of tack, including the foreseen introduction of full civil unions for same-sex couples, is moving the country upstream as far as civil liberties as a whole are concerned.
As such, yesterday’s announcement by Civil Liberties Minister Helena Dalli that the government has dropped the fight against transgender person Joanne Cassar, who is seeking to marry, is welcome news. In what was a most peculiar situation that should have been ironed out long ago, Ms Cassar had been recognised by the state as a woman after gender reassignment surgery and had the details of her birth certificate changed accordingly, but, under Maltese law, she was still not allowed to marry.
Also welcome was yesterday’s news that the same minister aims to present amendments to Article 8 of the Marriage Act so that those applying for to be married after gender reassignment will be able to do so unencumbered by the red tape that Ms Cassar had been tangled up in for the last seven years.
Moreover, the minister also confirmed the government will in the near future be presenting a bill regulating the identification of transgender people, which would presumably be based mainly on the private members bill tabled in the last legislature by MP Evarist Bartolo, now education and employment minister.
Ms Cassar’s case dates back to 2006, when she and her partner applied for marriage banns, only for the Marriage Registrar to refuse because Ms Cassar had been born male - even though by that time she had legally changed her gender from male to female.
She won a court case in the First Hall of the Civil Court in 2010, only to face a constitutional appeal from the Attorney General. The following year, the Constitutional Court overturned the Civil Court’s decision on the basis that her change of name and gender on a birth certificate did not equal her recognition as a woman. According to the Constitutional Court, the changes to her birth certificate were mere niceties aimed at protecting her right to privacy.
In 2011 she brought the case before the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that her fundamental right to a private and family life, and her fundamental right to marry, were being breached. The case, which the previous administration had been fighting against her tooth and nail, has now been dropped and the tab of Ms Cassar’s legal expenses will also be picked up by the state.
The minister also announced yesterday that the government is to establish a consultative committee on introducing civil unions for same sex couples, another civil liberties’-related election pledge being acted on quickly. That goes several steps further than the cohabitation bill tabled in the last legislature, which had fallen well short of the expectations of the country’s gay community.
Without full-blown same-sex marriage, a growing number of European countries have introduced the civil union concept as a way of giving homosexual couples the same rights and status accorded to married couples, and it is extremely positive that Malta is now on the verge of following suit.
Although the cohabitation legislation drafted by the previous administration had constituted a huge step forward for the country, the civil unions that the new government has pledged to introduce are a quantum leap not only for the gay community but also for the whole of the country’s growing civil rights movement.
Yesterday’s fourfold announcements together constituted an abrupt, yet expected, u-turn in government policy. Just as divorce was a civil right that has now rightly been accorded to what is essentially a minority of the population, LGBT people must also have their inherent human rights recognised and etched permanently in stone, and the government, with hammer and chisel in hand, now stands ready to do so.