Monday, 28 October 2013

Malta Today: PN in favour of civil unions, ‘a step forward for the party’

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil describes PN’s position in favour of civil unions as a clear message in favour of gay communities.
Tuesday 22 October 2013 - 20:33 by Miriam Dalli

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil

The Opposition's position in favour of the Civil Liberties Act was a "positive step forward" for the Nationalist Party, according to leader Simon Busuttil.

Addressing the House of Representatives during the debate on civil unions, Busuttil said he was "proud" of the decision that the Nationalist parliamentary group agreed upon.

"I am proud with the PN's position. It sends a clear message that our door is wide open for the gay community. It shows an important step forward which the PN has taken, a position which may be different from the one held in the past," he said.

Busuttil said the Nationalist parliamentary group dedicated over four hours discussing the issue. He however lamented that it didn't have enough time to scrutinise the Bill as it was placed on the House agenda a week after the Bill was published.

The Opposition leader said it was "a pity" that the government failed to consult the Oppoistion on the Bill.

During her speech, Minister Helena Dalli reiterated that the LBGTI consultative council was made up of groups and NGOs who worked directly with the gay community.

The Opposition leader however accused Dalli of having indulged in a "partisan speech".

"The Labour party is more interested in using the gay community for its political necessities rather than because it truly believes in the cause," Busuttil said.

The Opposition leader said it was a fact that a percentage of the Maltese population was gay, a community which formed part of the Maltese society.

"This law sends a clear message to the gay community that we want them to be an integral part of our society," he said.

Busuttil also said the Opposition would be proposing a number of amendments at committee stage. These amendments would be to clearly distinguish between the civil marriage law and civil union laws.

"The amendments will not create any obstacles but delineate the difference between the two laws."

By way of example, Busuttil said there are sections of the civil marriage - such as the reference to religious marriage - which could not be applied to civil unions.

At one point, as Busuttil and Dalli engaged in a tit-for-tat, Busuttil said the PN had always been open to the gay community, "so much so that during the past legislature we had an MP who was openly gay" - referring to former Nationalist MP Karl Gouder. The Opposition leader however did not name him.

PN deputy leader for parliamentary affairs Mario de Marco said both the PN and Labour were aiming for the same target. "We both want the union between same-sex couples to be respected and given the same rights as everybody else," he said.

According to the deputy leader, while the PN went through a period of "conservative caution", the current parliamentary group acknowledged there are people with different beliefs.

"Even if some of these are people are not ready to give gay couples equal rights, with all due respect these people must understand that everyone, irrespective of the sexual orientation or race, is equal. After all, we are all born under the same sky."

He said that recognising differences of society was a way of showing a level of national maturity. "Undoubtedly, this Bill is being heavily promoted by the local LGBTI community. And even though we are now at a stage to legally recognise such relationships, by no way does it mean that is a new reality," de Marco said.

He noted that all too often, parliamentary discussions reveal differences between two sides of the House. "But trying to score political points is what many try to do... something which shows why the two parties are so different," he said, adding that both the PL and PN electoral programmes included the issue of same-sex couples.

While the PL referred to civil union, the PN electoral pledge referred to civil partnerships. He said that while one would have expected that there were two different legal realities, it was more of a formality than anything else.

"There isn't a difference between a partnership and union. The difference is when writing the Bill and what rights are given. What's in a name? Reality is there no difference between what the Nationalists proposed and what the Labour have tabled," de Marco said.

De Marco said the country must "unite" under this Bill: "The argument is simple... who are we to discriminate and distinguish between different people? Who are we to say that others should be more equal because of their sexual orientation?"

Going a step further, de Marco said another section of society had to be ignored but which required the same protection nonetheless. "What about those who have decided they don't want to formally and legally join in marriage or civil union? It is about time that we acknowledge those who want to cohabitate."

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