Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Independent: Making History
Wednesday, 16 October 2013, 07:57 , by Cyrus Engerer

The publication of the Civil Union Act last Monday is a clear signal that the current administration values and believes in the principle of equality, not only in its rhetoric but also in practice. The bill not only gives all the rights (and obligations) associated with Civil Marriage to couples in a Civil Union but goes a step further in recognising Marriages, contracted between same-sex couples abroad, in Malta as Civil Marriages too.

Deemed as a ‘historic step forward’ by many, including by former AD Chairperson Michael Briguglio, the Labour Administration managed to once again make history in the fight for Civil Liberties in Malta. It is a step forward in the pursuit of happiness of thousands of couples and families that have been legally and socially discriminated since civil marriage become part of our social construct.

The battle was a long one and would not have been possible without the courage shown by activists in our country. It took courage for people of the likes of Gabi Calleja and Sandro Mangion to put a face behind the call for equality, formalised by the foundation of the Malta Gay Rights Movement, thirteen years ago. Their TV appearances which made the headlines back then, gave hope to a number of teens (and others) who felt that they were different and that possibly they could never be accepted in our conservative society.

In the local context, the left-leaning progressive Labour movement was always at the forefront to remove discrimination and introduce new Civil Rights in Malta. Apart from various other rights such as those relating to equate the working class with other classes in society, rights to put women at par with men, it was also Labour that decriminalised homosexuality in the 70s and decriminalised adultery on the same day.

The election of Joseph Muscat as leader of the Labour Party gave a signal that Labour would be going back to its progressive roots. One of the first changes brought about by the new leader was that of including sexual orientation as one of the basis against which no discrimination could be made in party membership. A small step but which gave a big signal. This addition as well as that of gender identity will now also be included in our Constitution as more grounds for equality.

The past five years clearly showed that the Labour Party with proper guidance from activists was open to bring about a revolution in Civil Rights in Malta to achieve equality. Many of us took on the challenge (not only based on Civil Liberties) and worked hand-in-hand with the Party to make history. It is the continuous contact between politicians and those in the field that can bring about the best laws in the interest of citizens.

The Civil Union Act is not the end of the journey but just the beginning, as Minister Helena Dalli aptly stated. It could be considered as rather ‘easy’ to propose laws and get parliament’s rubber stamp. The challenge is to bring a change in mentality – which change I have seen manifestly progress in the past few years.

The Consultative Council will in the coming weeks and months be meeting with various Ministers to give our on-the-ground advice to what changes in legislation and/or processes are needed in order to improve the quality of life on minorities in Malta, especially the LGBTI minority.

Let’s continue making history. It is our duty as politicians, whether at local, national, European or global level, to safeguard the weakest in our society. Today, the LGBTI community in Malta can say ‘Malta is mine as well’.

Cyrus Engerer is a Labour Party European Parliament election candidate

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