Tuesday, 22 October 2013, 18:57 , by Neil Camilleri
Parliament tonight started debating the Civil Unions Bill presented by the government.
The bill, once approved by Parliament, will allow gay couples to enjoy civil rights similar to those of heterosexual couples, including the adoption of children.
The government published the bill last week and the Nationalist Party on Monday issued a statement saying it will be voting in favour and will also propose amendments.
Bill is not about gay rights, but human rights
Civil Liberties minister Helena Dalli said that the Civil Unions Bill is not about gay rights but human rights. “We believe that everyone is born equal. We want to live in a country without discrimination, a state that does not distinguish between one person and another. But we need to work hard to get there, we need to change the public attitude towards the matter.”
Sometimes we can be tyrants to the minority, Dr Dalli said. She said that recent studies showed that Malta is number seven in EU for discrimination based on sexual orientation and number eight for discrimination at the workplace based on orientation. Other surveys showed that many LGBT persons hide their sexual orientation. Half of them said they were harassed and a considerable number of suicides are carried out by LGBTi youths. “This is not acceptable. Family members could be going through these circumstances without our knowledge.”
Dr Dalli insisted that it is not acceptable that transgender children do not find the necessary support from our laws. It is also not acceptable that only one parent is recognised in a same sex family. These, and other issues will be tackled by this administration. The government wants to pull down the walls of prejudice because it holds human rights dear.
Dr Dalli welcomed Claudette Buttigieg’s private members bill against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation but said that the government would present an amendment for a gender identity clause to be included in the legislation. A private member’s bill presented by Evarist Bartolo on the subject had been left to rot by the previous administration.
She criticised the PN for “not doing anything” when it held power and accused it of making Joanne Cassar “go through hell” instead of helping her. She said that the PN was not represented on the consultative council that drew up the Civil Unions Bill because no political parties were members.
“On the other hand, if there was a PN LGBTi it would have been invited to take part.”
She said that the church has a right to its opinion but this was about civil union and not religious marriage. The church does not have anything to do with this.
Current laws were drafted without consideration for LGBTi persons. The government is waiting to see what amendments the PN will present. "What rights do they want to remove from the Bill?"
Studies about gay adoption are debatable. Some studies show that the sexual orientation of the parents does not affect upbringing. "Let’s not prejudice and let the adoptions board decide."
Dr Dalli said that the PN leader is pretending to know more about LGBTi rights than the experts. He has "completely lost touch."
The cohabitation bill that was presented by the PN government was deemed as offensive by gay persons. There was no distinction between same-sex couples and siblings. PN MEPs voted against or abstained on resolutions condemning violence against homosexuals. This is the PN’s track record on the issue. No one can deny this.
The PN is confused on the issue. It voted against rights for gay persons but is now calling the Bill a step in the right direction. "I hope that this time they are really on board."
We chose equality - PM Joseph Muscat
Speaking during a PL activity in Hamrun, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that the government had chosen in favour of equality. “It would have been easier for the PL to steer clear of the subject but our principles will not be compromised. He accused the PN of working against equality if it wanted certain rights to be removed from the bill with the amendments that it will present
PL using LGBT community to gain political points
In reply, Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil said that Dr Dalli had made a partisan speech. “The Labour Party is more interested in using the gay communuty for its own gain.”
The Civil Unions Bill will give legal rights and responsibilities to gay couples. A law is needed because the issue can affect anyone. Anyone can have a friend, relative or loved on who is gay. The gay community is part of our society.
The PN had discussed the matter for more than six hours on Monday and it decided to vote in favour of the bill. Dr Busuttil said he was proud of the decision that means that the PN has taken a different stand than it would have in the past. The party sent a clear message to the gay community. Its doors are wide open for the LGBT persons.
It was not fair to say that the PN did nothing for the gay community. Malta’s EU membership meant that a law against discrimination on the workplace was introduced into Maltese law. The PN government had amended it to include discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The NCPE was also asked to include sexual orientation. Last year the PN government changed the law to introduce harsher penalties for crimes based on sexual orientation. And Dr Busuttil himself was a signatory on a resolution against homophobia. He had convinced the whole EPP group to sign in favour. The PN Electoral programme included the civil partnerships law and a law to amend the constitution. And PN MP Claudette Buttigieg had presented a private members bill. The PN, however, did not manage to present Civil Partnerships Bill on time.
Dr Busuttil said that the PN will present its amendments during committee stage. The issue was not about the PN wanting to remove certain rights but about cases where the marriage act does not apply to the Civil Unions Bill.
Constantly interrupted by Minister Helena Dalli, Dr Busuttil criticised the government for consulting with the PL and AD but ignoring the PN. The PN does not have an LGBT section but it was the first party to have an openly gay MP.
Government chairs empty during debate
All but two government chairs were empty during Dr Dalli's speech. Only Carmelo Abela and Deo Debattista were seated, while Minister Joe Mizzi was pacing around. All other government MP's were absent.