Thursday, 31 October 2013

Independent: Content, Scope of Bill in line with Commitments - Gabi Calleja
Monday, 28 October 2013, 09:14 , by Duncan Barry

Malta Gay Rights Movement coordinator Gabi Calleja believes that the content of the soon-to-be-approved Civil Union Bill reflects the nature of discussions/consultations held both prior to the general election and after between the gay rights lobby group, LGBT Labour and the consultative council appointed by the government.

Ms Calleja was replying to questions tabled by this newspaper on whether the content of the ‘gay marriage’ bill, proposed by Minister for Civil Liberties Helena Dalli, was in line with what was proposed to Labour’s gay rights lobby group and the government’s consultative council by the gay rights movement prior to and after the election.

She says: “The content and scope of the bill reflects the principle of recognition at par with marriage including parenting rights discussed both pre and post election within the consultative council.”

Asked if she feels any alterations should be made to the bill, she said: “I believe the bill provides the best possible legal recognition and protection short of marriage equality and any amendments proposed should not reduce the scope of the bill in any way.”

When asked if she agreed with the statement being made that the Civil Union Bill is the equivalent of same-sex marriage, and if not how do the two concepts differ, or if it is simply a question of playing with words, Ms Calleja replied: “The bill provides the same rights and obligations to couples entering a civil union as marriage and does not provide for marriage equality which remains the goal for MGRM and which is the form of recognition that will not only provide for equal rights and obligations but also equal status within society.”

Ms Calleja says that families are based on relationships of care, love and responsibility and these values are not restricted to traditional family structures but are also found in diverse family forms including families with same-sex parents.

She was giving her opinion on the debate related to the adoption of children by gay couples.

Furthermore, she pointed out that there is no logical reason to prevent adoption to all same-sex couples based on their sexual orientation.

Echoing the words of both government and Opposition MPs, she said: “Any adoption application should be assessed on its own merits based on the individual's or couples’ ability to provide a loving and caring environment for the child.”

As much as Ms Calleja feels that debate and discussion are healthy in a democracy and should certainly be encouraged, she takes umbrage at the prejudice towards LGBT persons by a number of individuals.

“The uncomfortable truth is that prejudice towards LGBT persons remains firmly entrenched in some people’s hearts and minds.

“They hide behind rhetoric and prophesy the destruction of society as we know it.”

She continues: “To truly respect the dignity and rights of LGBT persons is to look us in the eye and acknowledge that we are equals without exception; anything short of this perpetrates injustice.”

In a bid to explain the basic principle behind the ‘gay marriage’ bill, Ms Calleja says that “we hold all people to be equal in dignity and rights and that implies that all, irrespective of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or disability should have equal recognition before the law.”

“This,” she said “is not to say that any differences should simply be ignored but that equal access to rights should be ensured, a principle which should apply to all spheres of life including family life.”

The ‘gay marriage’ bill debate in Parliament, which has seen national gay-rights groupsinvesting heavily in fighting for the bill, has set the ball rolling for gay couples to eventually be granted the right to apply for child adoption.

As matters stand, one can still adopt, irrelevant of whether one is a heterosexual or a gay person, but can do so on an individual basis (single persons). Once approved, the bill will see gay couples being able to apply to adopt as a family unit.

Some are under the impression that gays are being granted the right to adopt but it is not the right for gay couples to adopt that is being granted but the right to be able to apply for child adoption.

Both the government and Opposition have stressed that it is up to the Adoption Board and Courts to decide who or not is eligible to adopt a child and the decision is not based on sexual orientation but if one is physically and mentally fit to adopt, as always was the case, prior to the proposed bill.

In other words, the bill retains the same right that is already being granted to single persons.

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