As Parliament debates a Bill that will allow gay couples to contract a civil union granting them full marriage rights,Kurt Sansonegets both sides of the issue.
The case for equality
Being gay and adhering to the Catholic faith seems irreconcilable but Mario Gerada believes otherwise. To him even the Christian understanding of marriage can apply to gay couples.
It is the argument he starts with when asked about the Civil Unions Bill currently before Parliament. The Bill that provides State recognition of gay couples equates civil unions to marriage in all but name.
But although the Bill is of a civil nature Mr Gerada feels that marriage in the Maltese context still has a strong sacramental dimension.
“I believe the Government consciously chose not to call it gay marriage out of respect for Maltese culture; not to introduce this type of relationship within the religious context,” Mr Gerada argues.
He says the Bill is a positive step forward because it recognises the existence of gay couples that have their own tribulations like any other heterosexual couples.
“Gay couples have always existed, they will not start to exist now just because of the law... but it will protect gay people, who like other couples can have beautiful relationships but can also have problems.”
However, although he acknowledges that any argument on gay marriage will inevitably boil down to a discussion on the law, he prefers a more open debate that includes the religious aspect.
He argues that a Christian marriage with its emphasis on lifelong commitment, understanding, fidelity and the creation of an environment of wellbeing for children goes beyond what is normal in nature.
“Being faithful and having a lifelong companion do not come natural,” he says, adding marriage is much more than simply having a man and a woman producing children.
It is within this context that Mr Gerada believes the principles that underpin Christian marriage open up the possibility for gay couples to enter a relationship based on love and get married.
Mr Gerada is not one to believe that everything the Church says is wrong. He acknowledges there is truth in the Church’s argument that a gay relationship is different to that of a man and a woman.
However, he disagrees with the conclusion the Church leaders made that this difference should be reflected in the laws of the country.
“The Church argues this is not discrimination but I believe it is because although we are different the law must emphasise equality,” Mr Gerada says.
When confronted with the fact that gay partners cannot have children in a natural way, Mr Gerada points out that it is not always the case that married heterosexual couples have their own children.
Gay couples should be able to foster and adopt children and like any other couple they will have to undergo an assessment, he says.
On whether gay couples should have their own children through in-vitro fertilisation, Mr Gerada sees this is a bioethical issue. “It should be studied not because the couple may be gay but because of the ethical implications of sperm and egg donation or surrogacy.”
Mr Gerada is a gay rights activist.
The case for difference
Arthur Galea Salomone
Arthur Galea Salomone believes MPs are duty-bound to regulate different relationships but his is not a call for equality.
People choose to cohabit, partner in a civil union or marry, he says, but these different forms of relationship cannot be equated.
The Civil Unions Bill before Parliament states that the underlying principle is to equate civil unions with marriage in terms of “procedure and substance”.
And it is this linkage with the Marriage Act that Mr Galea Salomone wants uncoupled. He describes marriage as the permanent union between one man and one woman “for their mutual love and support and for the procreation and upbringing of children”.
He says families built around lasting marriage have been the foundation of society for years but acknowledges life preferences are changing “for better or for worse”.
The Civil Unions Bill tries to respond to these changing realities, he argues, appealing to politicians to continue introducing measures that strengthen families.
Mr Galea Salomone wants a constructive debate that should seek consensus on the regulation of different forms of relationships. He says the Government has a clear electoral mandate to introduce a law regulating civil unions but emphasises legislators should not exceed this mandate.
“Civil unions may be given legal recognition without subordinating children’s best interests and without throwing marriage as we know it overboard,” he argues.
Mr Galea Salomone says that when a cohabitation Bill is presented there will be many legally recognised options people can choose from when forming a relationship: unregulated cohabitation, regulated cohabitation, civil union with divorce and civil marriage with divorce.
Within this context there is no compelling reason to equate different forms of relationships, he says, adding that equality should not be invoked as a pretext to redefine marriage.
He insists that laws which distinguish between different realities are not discriminatory but a celebration of diversity.
“In a society that celebrates pluralism what is needed is fairness that respects diversity and not pseudo equality which destroys differentiation,” he argues.
But even though the Bill applies the Marriage Act to civil unions, Mr Galea Salomone insists it omits to regulate matters such as the obligation of fidelity and support between partners in a civil union, property and succession matters.
“In essence, the Bill does what it should not do and omits to do what it should be doing.”
However, the Bill does refer to the adoption of children by same-sex parents, something that Mr Galea Salomone defines as sensitive subject matter.
He insists there is no such thing as a fundamental right of parents to bear, bring up or adopt children. But children do have a fundamental right to family life.
“Consultation appears to have been carried out exclusively with the LGBT lobby and the Commissioner of Children did not feature anywhere in the process.”
He says the institute of adoption is not intended to address or satisfy the wishes of adoptive parents, be they homosexual or heterosexual, but to safeguard the best interest of the child. “That should remain paramount,” he insists.