Monday, 28 October 2013

Malta Today: ‘Families are about relationships, commitment and love’ - MGRM

‘The uncomfortable truth is that prejudice towards LGBT persons remains firmly entrenched in some people’s hearts and minds’.
Wednesday 23 October 2013 - 09:21 by Miriam Dalli

MGRM coordinator Gabi Calleja.

The "uncomfortable truth" was that prejudice towards LGBT persons remains firmly entrenched in some people's hearts and minds, according to MGRM coordinator Gabi Calleja.

Calleja was reacting to the different positions being taken on civil unions that is currently being discussed in parliament. The Church has insisted that children should be brought up by mother and father, while the Opposition has argued for a clear distinction between the marriage law and civil unions.

MGRM has dubbed "ridiculous" a claim that the government was attempting to introduce 'gay marriage' by stealth. While it they are being called 'civil unions' - given the Labour government's electoral mandate to introduce civil unions - the law will provide same-sex couples with all the rights and duties as dictated by civil marriage law.

"By far the most ridiculous claim made so far is that the government is attempting to introduce 'gay marriage' by stealth. The bill was published for all to see. The scope of the bill, including the fact that it will grant partners in a civil union the same rights and obligations as marriage, was announced through a press conference. At no point was there any attempt by the government or the consultative council to hide the extent of the rights and obligations granted by the bill," Calleja said.

She said it was not surprising that the major stumbling block related to the recognition that the bill will grant to same-sex parent headed families, and in particular, to access to joint adoption.

The basic principle behind the civil union bill was that all people will people will be held equal in dignity and right. This implies that all, irrespective of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or disability should have equal recognition before the law.

"This is not to say that any differences should simply be ignored but that equal access to rights should be ensured. This principle applies to all spheres of life including family life," Calleja said.

The MGRM coordinator said that some who choose to define family "very narrowly and restrict it to heterosexual married couples and there children".

However, she added, there were many who did not fit this purported 'traditional' model of the family.

"Single parent families, adoptive parents, foster parents, reconstituted families and same-sex parents are just a few we could name. In the final analyses, the one thing that such families have in common are the relationships they enshrine, the commitment they embody and the love that they share. These qualities are not limited to any form of recognition but exist independently of it."

Referring to the statement issued by the Bishops in which Christian MPs were urged to "continue proposing" the Church's teaching on marriage, Calleja said their position was contradictory.

"While the Bishops' statement was interpreted as being somewhat restrained, one cannot credibly state that one should treat the LGBT community with dignity and respect and in the next breath claim that their intimate relationships and children do not constitute family life," she argued.

The government and the LBGTI consultative council have been criticised of trying to fast-track the civil unions Bill. Calleja however insisted that those "opposing" the bill "conveniently forget that LGBT rights groups have been advocating for the legal recognition of same sex couples and their families for years and that MGRM published a position paper on marriage equality in January of 2012".

Calleja insisted marriage equality and civil unions have been amply debated in the public sphere. Yesterday evening in parliament, Civil Liberties Minister Helena Dalli also denied the bill was being fast-tracked, despite criticism by the opposition that it had not been given enough time to analyse the draft bill.

The bill was placed on the parliament's agenda a week after it was published.

One of the issues being raised is whether same-sex couples should be allowed to adopt - even though this is already available to a single parents who can be homosexual. Others argue that the introduction of parenting rights should be postponed until there is definite proof that no adverse effects will result from having same-sex adoptive parents.

"The simple fact that same-sex couples have to somehow justify their desire and ability to offer a suitable family environment to any children they might have or adopt is in itself discriminatory and clearly an infringement of LGBT people's dignity and rights since no such reassurance is expected of opposite sex couples who choose to become parents," Calleja argued. "This in no way jeopardises the best interests of children."

The adoption process ensures the best interests of the child irrespective of one's right to adopt: the placement of a child is dependent on a favourable assessment by social workers and the adoption board.

"The civil union bill simply ensures that such a process does not unfairly discriminate against same-sex couples on the basis of their sexual orientation. The bill will also make it much simpler for children already being raised by a same-sex couple to enjoy the legal recognition of both parents, regardless of whether they share a biological link with their parent(s)."

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