Sunday, October 27, 2013, 00:01 by Fr Joe Borg
During the present purposely-rushed discussion about the Government’s decision to legalise same-sex marriage, many are comparing and contrasting this issue with the referendum and debate about the introduction of divorce legislation. (I purposely and correctly use ‘same-sex marriage’, as every man and his dog has now accepted the fact that the proposed Bill introduces gay marriage in all but name).
This exercise can be an interesting one.
The pro-divorce lobby had relished the fact that Malta was just one of the two countries in the world that did not have divorce legislation. This time round, the pro-gay marriage lobby do not mention numbers, but mention presumed rights. (Last Sunday, I explained why according to the European Court of Human Rights there is no fundamental right for gay marriage).
Thanks to the generally positive media coverage, the gay lobby has generated a perception that Malta, just as in the case of divorce, is one of the few remaining retrograde states that have not legalised same-sex marriage. The situation is totally opposite. Out of the 190 or so countries in the world, only 16 have legalised same-sex marriage, according to the website Freedom to Marry. It is also legal in some parts of Mexico and the US. The Australian Capital Territory legalised it last week but the federal government is challenging this decision in court.
Besides, there are 17 countries in the world that legalised some form or other of civil union. There is a qualitative difference between the two realities, a difference which the Labour Government is trying to obfuscate by making a civil union equal to gay marriage and by pretending that gay marriage is the same as marriage between heterosexuals. The Government hopes that by cobbling together a hotchpotch of misinformation it will muddy the issue and avoid opposition to it.
Malta would have been part of the block of countries that legalised civil unions had the Government respected its one-sentence pre-electoral promise trumpeted in its manifesto: “We will introduce the right of civil union for same-sex couples.” Exponents of the party had solemnly declared that they were against same-sex marriage.
The Nationalist Party, on the other hand, had promised to introduce a constitutional amendment to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Parliament is right now debating this motion. It also promised to introduce civil partnership for same-sex couples.
This brings me to another lesson we should have learnt from the divorce referendum debate, but didn’t.
While during the divorce legislation, both parties had a de facto radically different position, it seems that this time round the two parties had a common position: civil unions but no marriage for same-sex couples.
One would have expected that the Government would have made an effort to reach a consensus with the Opposition and other important sectors of society about such a delicate matter. Instead, the Government wanted to propose the re-definition of marriage after consulting various sectors of the gay lobby only. Everyone else was excluded. Why? I repeat why?
Not all is lost. It is still possible to try and reach a consensus during the committee stage given that the Opposition will vote for the draft at the second reading when the vote is about the principle and not its details. One hopes that if a consensus is reached it will be one that really respects the difference between a civil union and same-sex marriage. We don’t need a wishy-washy consensus that leaves us neither here nor there. We need a consensus based on principle and not on electoral convenience.
The adoption issue is probably the most contentious part of the draft. Last Sunday, I proposed that given the conflicting results of research about adoption by same-sex couples and the local socio-cultural milieu, it would be better if a parliamentary commission is set up to study the matter and advise Parliament within a reasonable period of time. When in doubt don’t act, particularly if you are acting hurriedly.
Today, I widen the scope of the study I referred to last Sunday. I think it is about time that a thorough and extensive study is made of the adoption regime in Malta. Such a study would make an evaluation of laws and systems while it could also include a tracer study of people adopted. The possible adoption by same-sex couples could be part of such a holistic approach to the subject. The results of this research conducted by experts can provide the basis for change in policy.
Out of the 190 or so countries in the world, only 16 have legalised same-sex marriage
The comparison between the divorce and same-sex marriage debate has brought up in the wash a pseudo lesson that has become the mantra of secularist lobby. They are saying that the Church got a licking during the divorce debate and should now just shut up, if not also pack up. This lobby wants the Church to be excluded, not just emarginated, from the public sphere. The sacristy, not the piazza, is the space that, they say, the Church should occupy.
The intolerance and bullying tactics being used on, for example, the social networks should be resisted. The different levels of the Church should be active in the public sphere. The Church owes this to the country, to the democratic and pluralistic environment and to its own message and mission. The Inter-diocesan Commission for the Environment’s statement on sustainable development released on October 17 is a great example of how the Church should be present in environmental issues.
The involvement of Bishop Charles Scicluna in the current debate about gay marriage is a clear example of how the Church should act on socio-moral issues. It would be disastrous for the Church to ‘learn’ the lesson the pseudo-liberal lobby is demanding that it learns from the divorce referendum debate. Were the Church to do this (and several times it does), then the Church herself would be diminishing her voice in the Areopagus and thus making herself increasingly irrelevant, even with her own followers. Then the Church can blame no one by herself.