Wednesday, 23 October 2013, 12:00 , by Duncan Barry
The ‘Great Debate on Gay Marriage’ kicked off in parliament yesterday, but prior to the sitting this newspaper embarked on an exercise to pick the brains of Opposition MPs on the issue.
The Nationalist Party has said that it will support the Bill when it is put to a vote, but there has been opposition and it intends to propose amendments to certain clauses – presumably those referring to adoption by same-sex couples.
Some Opposition MPs have emerged more loyal to their party than to their conscience, avoiding crossing the party lines and sticking to the PN’s position, even if it meant that certain issues were against their beliefs.
When asked the question as to whether they personally agree that gay couples should be granted the right to apply for adoption, many baulked and stopped shy of giving an answer.
But on the other hand, in a political scenario, they all said they would rather wait for the outcome of the debate than rush into stating what is right and what is wrong with the Bill.
PN MPs, a PN candidate who contested the last general election and a former minister contacted by this newspaper mainly stressed on the importance of safeguarding children’s interests while emphasising that adoption is the sole right of a child and not the individual seeking to adopt but stopped short of commenting any further. The PN will be discussing the matter internally today.
Beppe Fenech Adami
PN deputy leader Beppe Fenech Adami said it is the right of the child and not the right of those wanting to adopt.
He added that the sole interest of both parties should be that of safeguarding the interests of children and determining whether one is eligible to adopt or not should be separately left to the Courts to decide and a decision not based simply on the wishes of those seeking to adopt.
Dr Fenech Adami pointed out that a law regularising unmarried couples living together was part of both the PN’s and PL’s electoral programme and rightly so was being implemented.
“The PN is now going through the phase of submitting our amendments to the Bill intended to distinguish between the rights stated in the Marriage Act and that of the Civil Union, rights that don’t apply to the civil union bill,” he said.
PN MP Claudette Buttigieg said that there’s a gross discrepancy in the soon-to-be-approved bill proposing amendments to the Civil Code, which will include a new clause entitled ‘Parenthood in Civil Unions’, when dealing with the adoption of children, whether they are adopted by gay couples or heterosexuals, since “adoption is the fundamental right of children and not of those individuals seeking to adopt”.
Ms Buttigieg said that the current Marriage Act does not include the right to adopt but the right to apply for the adoption of children and since the proposed bill is a “cut and paste” version of the current law, which has been turned into a civil union bill, “the right of gay couples or heterosexuals to adopt should never have been included in the proposed bill”.
“It would be a massive mistake if the bill is a hurried one; this is one of many issues that should be discussed properly between the two sides as it is not a political issue.
“We are talking about children and if one rushes into approving the Bill, we are bound to make silly mistakes and there’s no room for such mistakes when dealing with sensitive issues,” she said.
“If this right does not exist in a civil marriage it should not exist in a civil union,” she pointed out.
On a positive note, Ms Buttigieg said that opposed to how things currently stand, where individuals can apply to adopt a child as ‘single’ parents, experts in the field will be in a better position to determine who should be eligible to adopt a child once the amended law comes into force since gay couples will be able to jointly apply for the adoption of a child.
“The difference,” she said, once the Bill is approved, is that experts in the field will have the knowledge of who the individuals applying to adopt are, opposed to how things are, where individuals can apply to adopt a child as a single parent.”
The law currently states that any single individual or married couple can apply to adopt. Since the law does not state that the single parent has to be heterosexual, gay people can also apply to adopt.
The ‘Gay Marriage’ Bill proposes amendments to the Civil Code. The law will be changed to say that “children adopted jointly by partners to a civil union contracted between persons of the same sex shall be recognised for all intents and purposes of law as having parents of the same sex and all rights and obligations of parents towards their children and of children towards their parents under the Civil Code
Ryan Callus stopped short of stating that in principle, the PN in Opposition agrees with such a bill but added that “we will voice our concerns once the amendments are reviewed”.
Jason Azzopardi said that his stand is the same as the party he represents but slammed the government for being less than truthful when it pledged that it would be humble prior to the election by stating it would listen to everyone on each and every issue.
“Regarding the Civil Unions Bill, the government informed the Opposition only 48 hours prior to the start of discussions in parliament related to the Bill.
“I just hope that the government discussed in detail its proposed plans related to the Bill in the six months they have been drafting it and studied in detail each clause.
“Other countries spent weeks engaging in public consultation meetings on such sensitive issues and this government has given the Opposition a meagre 48 hours to prepare for discussions,” he said.
Edwin Vassallo, who contested the last geeneral election on the PN ticket, said that the Marriage Act and the civil union bill should be kept separate since one cannot apply the same clauses of a Marriage Act in a Civil Union one.
“All we need is a good legislation regulating civil unions, no more, no less,” he said.
He questioned whether individuals registering under the Civil Union Act would have to undergo the same procedures of heterosexual couples such as the marriage banns, or face other formalities before marriage, in the same way heterosexuals do, adding that if so, such persons would be ridiculed in a court of law.
“What applies to couples under the Marriage Act by nature should not apply to gay couples who live together, even if they will be able to adopt children in the future,” he said.
“If the same would apply in the Civil Union Bill as the Marriage Act, then it should have been simply called the ‘marriage for gay couples act,” according to Mr Vassallo.
Dolores Cristina (former PN minister)
“When it comes to adoption the rights of the child are paramount and this concept should remain supreme in deciding a child’s future.
“The rights of others are secondary, whether the prospective adoptive parents are heterosexual or gay couples, or single persons.
“Ideally, children should be placed in what is considered to be a ‘model’ family but sexual orientation should not be a criterion that automatically excludes a couple or a single person from being an adoptive parent.
“It should not be seen as the deciding factor on the parenting ability of prospective adoptive parents.
“Our legal system on adoption places a significant onus on the professionals working with children and on the members of the Adoption Board who are duty bound to ensure that children are placed in the best environment possible, taking into account birth relationships, parenting skills, socio-economic factors and an overall positive environment that will allow the child to develop fully to the best of her/his ability.”