Wednesday, 30 October 2013

David Gold: Implementing elements of the Scottish Bill in the Maltese Civil Union Bill

If certain elements of the Scottish bill for the legalization of civil marriage for all consenting adult couples, no matter their gender, no matter their sexual orientation, were incorporated into the bill on civil unions now before the Maltese Parliament, it would be fairer and presumably less unpalatable to its opponents

27.10.2013 by David Gold

“Opposition leader Simon Busuttil said in Parliament […] that he was proud of the position adopted by the Nationalist Party yesterday in favour of a law on civil unions. […]. [H]e noted [that] one of the amendments which needed to be made was over how the law on marriage (also applicable to the new law) made reference to religious marriages. It was evident that religious marriage could not apply to civil unions and therefore matters such as this needed to be clarified. What the Opposition was after was a law that was clear and did not cause confusion” (“Times: Busuttil: PN decision on civil unions was another step forward,” Malta Gay News, 23 October 2013).

The bill now before the Scottish Parliament for the legalization of same-gender civil marriage gives faith groups in Scotland every possible protection:

A. Any recognized faith group will be allowed to perform same-gender marriages if it so wishes, but the civil law will not require that any do.

B. If a recognized faith group decides to perform same-gender marriages but a member of its clergy refuses to, the civil law grants that person the right to refuse.

C. If a member of the clergy of a faith group refuses to perform same-gender marriages (whether or not that group performs them) or if a faith group refuses to perform them, nobody will have the right to bring suit, in a civil court, against that person or against that group for refusing to do so. Nor will a faith group performing same-gender marriages be allowed to bring suit, in a civil court, against a member of its clergy for refusing to do so.

Thus, the Scottish bill leaves decisions about same-gender religious marriage entirely in the hands of the faith groups and the members of their clergy and it protects the groups and the clergy from prosecution if they refuse to perform same-gender marriages.

In return for granting the faith groups and their clergy all the possible protections, the government of Scotland expects the groups and their clergy not to interfere in the legalization of same-gender civil marriage or, once it is legalized, in its functioning. “Ἀπόδοτε οὖν τὰ Καίσαρος Καίσαρι καὶ τὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ τῷ Θεῷ“ (Matthew 22:21) 'Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's'.

The Labour Party should spontaneously include such protections in the bill – not only because they would presumably please the Nationalist Party (as well as the Roman Catholic Church and other faith groups in Malta), but, chiefly, because they are protections that faith groups and members of their clergy deserve.

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