PN deputy leader Mario de Marco unequivocally says that the PN administration let transgender persons down.
Monday 10 June 2013 - 20:26 by Jurgen Balzan
In a bold statement which shifts the Nationalist Party away from the conservative stand the party took in recent years over the rights of transgender persons, PN deputy leader Mario de Marco said that the PN let the transgender community down by refusing to recognise their rights.
After saying that the previous PN government "might have let transgender persons down," in his address, de Marco stood up to correct himself as civil liberties minister Helena Dalli was about to start her speech.
"I must make this clear, I used the word 'maybe' but it was only because of my style of speech. I must take the 'maybe' back and say that we let them down," de Marco said.
On hearing this, Dalli said: "I wanted to pinch myself because I could not believe my ears when I heard an Opposition MP say that the party which was opposed to granting transgender legal recognition, now does not only want them (transgender persons) to be the same as others but they want the best for them."
In her round up of the Bill amending the Civil Code by which transgender people would be considered as individuals of the acquired sex with full rights, including the right to marry, Dalli underlined the progress achieved, saying "We have come a long way."
As the law stands, transsexuals applying for marriage are treated according to their gender at birth. The legal amendment will reflect the principle that, by recognising a person's reassigned gender identity through documentation (eg, ID card or driver's licence), the State also de facto commits itself to acknowledging and protecting all the rights and privileges associated with that particular gender identity.
De Marco admitted that the PN government "should have been much more sensitive to the case of Joanne Cassar" who he said had passed through a very difficult time.
"On behalf of the opposition, I apologise for failing to react at the opportune time when decisions taken did not grant Ms Cassar the rights she requested and for failing to enact the neccessery legislation before," de Marco said.
He added that at times, society needs people to "challenge" it and Ms Cassar was a "symbol" who is a pioneer and many persons would enjoy rights she has hardly fought for.
"Individuals make choices on the basis of responsibility not to encroach opther persons' freedom. The introduction of the right to marry for transgender persons, does not take away anything from other people's but guarantees a right to a minority," de Marco said.
He also noted that the bill is nothing but an extension of the right of freedom which allows individuals to choose their state and having society recognise this with all legal obligations.
De Marco and the PN's stand contrasts sharply with the Lawrence Gonzi led PN government which consistently denied transgender persons the right to marry.
The case of Joanne Cassar was representative of the PN administration's conservative stand after it stubbornly denied Galea the right to marry despite a protracted legal battle which landed the Maltese government in the European court.
Cassar filed a case against Malta in the European Court of Human Rights, after unsuccessfully suing the Registrar of Marriages for refusing to issue the banns necessary for her to marry her long-term (male) partner.
Joanne Cassar's ordeal began in 2006, when - after undergoing a complex and expensive procedure to change her sex from male to female, and having her birth certificate amended accordingly - she was refused permission to marry on the basis that the Marriage Act prohibited unions between persons of the same gender.
Cassar took the Marriage Registrar to court, and on February 12 2007, after noting that the proposed union did not contravene any provision of the Marriage Act, Mr Justice Gino Camilleri upheld her request and ordered the director of Public Registry to issue the marriage banns.
But the marriage registrar appealed, and in his decision to overturn the ruling last May, Mr Justice Joseph R. Micallef observed that while the Marriage Act defined marriage as a union "between a man and a woman", Maltese law offered no legal definition of either gender.
The court therefore took into account various definitions, including an affidavit signed by the former chairman of the parliamentary bio-ethics committee, Dr Michael Axiak, who wrote: "after gender reassignment therapy, a person will have remained of the same sex as before the operation."
Mr Justice Micallef also noted that Cassar's birth certificate, allowing a change of name and gender, was only intended to protect the right to privacy and to avoid embarrassment. He therefore upheld the marriage registrar's request, and annulled the marriage banns.
To date, persons who underwent gender reassignment surgery had their sex changed on all relevant documents except the original birth certificate accessible to the public.
In her closing remarks this evening, Dalli said: "We cannot rest on our laurels. Our work has only commenced, we need to educate our school children our young people, our workers and everyone else. This is a very important because it is a civil and human right," Dalli stressed.
Noting that she did not like the term 'minority' Dalli said that persons who have no rights or whose rights are violated should not have their rights upheld in proportion to their numbers.
"It's about human rights. Even if it's about one person, we must guarantee that that person's rights are safeguarded. Everybody must be treated equally and we all have our rights and liberties."
Insisting that the next challenge is to get persons who oppose the law on board, Dalli said: "The law will not affect many people because the transgender persons are not many but their victory is everybody's victory. This is a victory for freedom."