Friday, 31 May 2013

Malta Today: ‘Human rights are not a matter of maturity’ – gay rights campaigner Gabi Calleja

MGRM reacts to 'study' by Today Public Policy Institute claiming that introducing gay marriage would be “one step too far for Malta”.
Monday 20 May 2013 - 10:30 by Jurgen Balzan

MGRM coordinator Gabi Calleja says all things being equal, the TPPI should have given due regard to children residing with same-sex civil partners.

Human rights are an entitlement that have nothing to do with a country's level of maturity, said Malta Gay Rights Movement Coordinator Gabi Calleja, in a reaction to the Today Public Policy Institute's (TPPI) recommendation to introduce civil unions for same-sex couples instead of same-sex marriages.

Last week, TPPI director Martin Scicluna said introducing gay marriage would be "one step too far for Malta", adding that it would be "premature and impolitic."

Speaking to MaltaToday, Calleja said, "It is completely unacceptable to deny human rights to anyone, irrespective of the level of preparedness or maturity of a country."

The TPPI also calls for a longitudinal scientific study to look at the sensitive issue of the effects on children in same-sex relationships.

"Based on the outcome of such a study, all other factors being equal, the legislation should seek to cater for same-sex couples with children. It should give due regard to any children who may reside with same-sex civil partners," the report says.

However, Calleja hit out at this proposal, saying it was uncalled for to distinguish between people with different sexual orientations.

MGRM and Alternattiva Demokratika are the two major voices calling for the introduction of full marriage equality for LGBTI persons, while the TPPI recommendation echoes the stand taken by the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party, who both oppose gay marriage.

During the electoral campaign, the PN and PL edged closer to the MGRM position but stopped short of advocating marriage. While the PN chose to back civil partnerships for gay and straight couples, the Labour Party pledged to introduce civil partnerships for same-sex couples.

On being elected to office, Labour set up a consultative council to advise government and prepare legislation on LGBT rights, with a regulation addressing civil partnerships for same-sex couples and the identification of transgender persons being among the council's priorities.

Writing in his blog, the former AD chairperson, Michael Briguglio, said, "It does not make sense to speak of equality in family and social policy while only allowing opposite-sex partners to marry. Such exclusionary practice effectively means that symbolic and significant aspects of marriage, such as being 'husband' or 'wife' can only be articulated, experienced and recognised if one marries someone of the opposite sex."

Briguglio added that TPPI's proposal is discriminatory and "based on evolutionist philosophy, which holds that we Maltese are some inferior people who are not ready for certain rights."

On a more positive note, he expressed hope that the discursive power of the 'same-sex marriage deniers' gets the resistance it deserves. "In a way The Today Public Policy Institute can act as an incentive for such activism."

Civil unions yes, gay marriage not yet

Although the TPPI report, which Martin Scicluna authored, says that Maltese society treats LGBTI couples as being in a second-class relationship, the think tank falls short of recommending same-sex marriage.

Quizzed why TPPI had not proposed gay marriage, Scicluna said, "The gay community in Malta would appreciate a status giving them a status close to being married, which would nonetheless break the barriers."

The report, entitled 'Same Sex: Same Civil Entitlements' says that lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender and intersex (LGBTI) individuals make up about 5% of Malta's population, however same-sex couples living in Malta are excluded from any form of legal recognition and protection.

Scicluna said the report's aim was to examine means of improving the civil rights of LGBTI persons in Malta by ending discriminatory treatment and to consider the two options of introducing either a civil union scheme or same-sex marriage.

The report stresses that the right to non-discrimination and equality before the law are among the most fundamental of all human rights principles, however it pointed out that no single Maltese law safeguards the position of LGBTI persons in society.

It says that homosexual couples are denied basic financial and work-related entitlements in such fields as housing, inheritance rights and fiscal benefits.

"Discrimination against LGBTI persons, at the work-place and outside it, is a fact. Inequality between heterosexuals and non-heterosexuals (that is, lesbian, gay and bisexual persons) as well as between those who identify themselves with the sex attributed to them at birth and those who do not (known as transsexual or transgender) and intersex people is real and manifest in Malta," the report says.

Noting that there has been neglect by Parliament of the plight of sexual minorities, the think tank said the situation has been allowed to fester for too long.

"There is a pressing need for appropriate legislation to be passed to end discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and to punish homophobic hate crimes and bullying."

Quoting various studies carried out in Malta, the report says that between 8% and 10% of homosexuals in Malta are regularly subjected to some form of violence because of their sexual orientation, with about two thirds of those affected being young women.

It also says that in the first 10 months of 2010, 28 persons committed suicide in Malta, of which at least eight were young homosexual individuals who may have been driven to suicide by bullying or violence at school, at work or even within their own families.

A report from the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights also shows that 40% of Maltese LGBTI respondents experienced harassment at their workplace.

According to a study by ILGA-Europe, an association working for human rights and equality for LGBTI people in Europe, only Cyprus has a worse track record on LGBTI issues than Malta within the European Union.

Gay marriage is allowed in Sweden, Norway, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Iceland, the Netherlands and, as of more recently, the United Kingdom and France.

Other countries, like Germany, Denmark, Austria, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Hungary, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Switzerland, France and Finland and the United Kingdom have introduced civil partnerships or civil unions, as they are sometimes known.

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