20.10.2013 by Susan and Zachary Valkemirer
In Malta, the government has set out, in a novel way (some say, in an underhanded way), to legalize same-gender civil marriage.
1. A poll of public opinion taken in Malta in 2006 by Eurostat found that 18 percent of the country's adult residents supported the legalization of same-gender civil marriage.
2. A poll taken in October 2009 found that 49 percent of the country's university students supported the legalization of same-gender civil marriage, 35 percent were opposed, and 16 percent were undecided.
3. Also in October 2009, the then (and still) President of Malta, George Abela, meeting with officials of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association just before it opened its thirteenth annual conference (in Valletta), said that "love is the most important thing there is and it can't be 'graded' based on sexual orientation."
4. In March 2010, the then Prime Minister of Malta, Lawrence Gonzi (the head of the Nationalist Party) announced that the government intended to grant legal status to same-gender cohabiting couples, but no law was enacted before his party was voted out of power in the elections of March 2013.
5. A poll taken in October 2011 found that 56.5 percent of Malta's university students supported the legalization of same-gender civil marriage.
6. A poll taken in June 2012 found that 41 percent of the country's adults supported the legalization of same-gender civil marriage (52 percent were opposed and 7 percent undecided). We know of no more recent poll.
7. When viewed generationally, the results of the poll of June 2012 were: 60 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 35 supported legalization and 23 percent of those aged 55 and over did -- a difference seen in many other countries too, namely, as generations come and go, the percentage of supporters of legalization of same-gender civil marriage rises because younger generations are, on the whole, more cosmopolitan, have more education, and, consequently, are more open-minded and fair-minded than older ones.
8. Also in June 2012, the House of Representatives (Malta's unicameral parliament) broadened the definition of hate crimes to include crimes committed because of the victim's real or perceived gender or real or perceived sexual orientation.
9. Both the Labour Party, which describes its ideology as social democracy, and the Nationalist Party, which describes its as Christian democracy, announced in the run-up to the elections of March 2013 that they supported the legalization of same-gender civil unions (see, however, paragraphs 21 and 24 below on the Nationalist Party's change of heart).
10. The Labour Party won 39 of the 69 seats in the House of Representatives; the Nationalist Party won 30; and four other parties won none. Thirty-five votes being needed for approval of a bill, same-gender civil unions stands a good chance of being legalized during the current session of the House.
11. Bills go through six stages in the House of Representatives: at the First Reading, without any discussion, a vote is taken on whether to consider the bill further. If that vote is favorable, at the Second Reading, the essence or substance of the bill but not its details is discussed and then a vote is taken. If that vote is favorable, at the next stage, called the Committee Stage, the bill is examined in detail, clause by clause, and changes, called amendments, may be proposed. A vote is taken on each one. If the bill as a whole is approved, it proceeds to its Third Reading, which consists of just a vote. If the vote is favorable, the bill is presented to the President of Malta for his or her assent. If assent is granted, the text of the Parliamentary Act, as it will now be called, is published in the Government Gazette. Later, the validity of an act may be challenged in court (all the way up to the Constitutional Court, which in this case is the court of last resort).
12. On 14 October 2013, the Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs, and Civil Liberties of Malta, Helena Dalli, announced at a press conference that the following day the government would introduce a bill in the House of Representatives for the legalization of civil unions for all consenting adults, no matter their gender, no matter their sexual orientation.
13. The bill grants couples having contracted a civil union all the benefits, privileges, protections, and rights that different-gender married couples enjoy (including joint adoption of children), as well as expects of them the same duties and responsibilities as are expected of different-gender married couples. The bill also provides for the recognition of same-gender civil marriages performed outside Malta as equivalent to same-gender civil unions here.
14. Since, therefore, the bill would legalize same-gender civil marriage in all but name, we may assume that the government feels it best at this time not to call a spade a spade because, if it did, the bill might have less of a chance of being approved (many opponents of marriage equality think that the word marriage should be defined only as they see fit, but, language being a convention, words may change in meaning, as a glance at a historical dictionary of any language shows).
15. Consequently, the government has decided that at this time the better part of wisdom would be, under the name of civil unions, to grant the country's gays all the benefits, privileges, protections, and rights that civil marriage confers on different-gender couples, that is, all the SUBSTANCE of civil marriage, at the price of forgoing the WORD marriage because to insist on that word might result in the defeat of any bill for the legalization of same-gender civil marriage. It is a small price to pay.
16. Indeed, ninety-nine one-hundredths of a loaf is better than no loaf at all (in politics, as in life in general, if you play for all, you may lose all, so that compromise is often the best course). If the bill for the legalization of same-gender civil unions passes, it will still be possible for gays to get the last one-hundredth later, say, after a few years, when it became clear to the Maltese people that, despite the dire "predictions" of the cassandras ("Gay marriage spells the end of society as we know it," etc., etc., etc.), same-gender civil unions have brought no harm to the country.
17. In sum, what is important is that Maltese civil unions would give gays everything that non-gays get when they contract a civil marriage. Fairness requires nothing less and forbids anything more.
18. At the press conference, Ms. Dalli remarked that "We are people before we are straight, gay, black, white or red. We have to move towards a society that shuns discrimination and everyone enjoys rights to live a happy life," and Neil Falzon, a lawyer who specializes in human rights and has helped draft the bill, said that "This is a very important step for the LGBTI community and a first step towards total equality in marriage."
19. All members of the European Union, such as Malta, as well as all aspiring members, must subscribe to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, Article 20 of Chapter II of which states that "Everyone is equal before the law" and Paragraph 1 of Article 21 of Chapter II of which states that "Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited."
20. Malta's being a signatory to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union notwithstanding, the feeling has been growing among enlightened Maltese that the country should also have its own law barring discrimination against people on the basis of their real or perceived gender or real or perceived sexual orientation. In consequence, the House of Representatives is also considering a private bill to that effect, introduced by Claudette Buttigieg, the shadow Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs, and Civil Liberties of the Nationalist Party.
21. Although in the run-up to the elections of March 2013 the Nationalist Party expressed support for the legalization of same-gender civil marriage, it later had a change of heart (according to an article in its newspaper, the party now opposes it [see paragraph 24 below]), though at least some Nationalist members of the House of Representatives might in the end vote for it. Claudette Buttigieg, now probably Malta's most outspoken heterosexual supporter of equal rights for the LGBTI community (as Malta's representative at the Eurovision Song Contest 2000, by the way, she sang a song called "Desire," which was later chosen to be the official song of Gay Pride Month events in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 2001 and, participating in one of those events, she sang "Power of Pink," a song whose content is explicitly gay), will presumably be one of those Nationalist members.
22. On 13 September 2013, the bill for the legalization of civil unions passed its First Reading. At least up to 20 October 2013, the website of the House of Representatives showed no date for its Second Reading, though it does announce that “The Bill is currently in its 2nd Reading Stage.” Ms. Buttigieg's bill has passed its First Reading, its Second Reading to be held after the House of Representatives decides the fate of bill for the legalization of same-gender civil unions. Since the President of Malta, George Abela, is a member of the Labour Party and has expressed support for equality for gays (see paragraph 3 above), he would in all likelihood assent to both bills.
23. After the foregoing text was written, we learned why the Nationalist Party has gone from supporting the bill for the legalization of same-gender civil unions to opposing it.
24. The Nationalist Party at first favored a law recognizing cohabitation (see paragraph 4 above) and later a law granting more rights than officially recognized cohabitation, namely, those that would be conferred by some kind of civil union (see paragraph 9 above), but not all the rights of civil marriage, especially not the right to adopt children. When it saw, however, that the Labour government's bill now before the House of Representatives grants same-gender couples that right, it withdrew its support .
25. May the following observations lead the Nationalist Party to drop their opposition to the bill as it now stands:
26.A. In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders and its website now says that "All major professional mental health organizations have gone on record to affirm that homosexuality is not a mental disorder." Three more examples of the many organizations that could be mentioned are:
26.A.i. The American Psychological Association, which in 1973 decided that homosexuality is not a disorder.
26.A.ii. The World Health Organization, which in 1990 decided that homosexuality is not a disorder.
26.A.iii. The American Medical Association, which in 1994 called for "non-judgmental recognition of sexual orientation by physicians."
26.B. With specific reference to the suitability of same-gender couples as biological, adoptive, or foster parents, at least the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychoanalytic Association, the National Association of Social Workers [of the United States], the Child Welfare League of America, the North American Council on Adoptable Children, and the Canadian Psychological Association.
26.C. Early in 2013, after reviewing thirty years' research on children raised by same-gender adoptive and foster parents, the American Academy of Pediatrics (an organization which its website currently describes as being composed of about "60,000 primary-care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists, and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults") announced the publication of its statement of policy – Promoting the Well-Being of Children Whose Parents Are Gay or Lesbian – and an accompanying technical report (both appeared on line on 21 March 2013, where they are still available, and in print in the journal Pediatrics dated April 2013). Here are quotations from the Academy's announcement (available on line):
26.C.i. The Academy “supports civil marriage for same-gender couples – as well as full adoption and foster care rights for all parents, regardless of sexual orientation – as the best way to guarantee benefits and security for their children.”
26.C.ii. “Children thrive in families that are stable and that provide permanent security, and the way we do that is through marriage. The AAP believes there should be equal opportunity for every couple to access the economic stability and federal supports provided to married couples to raise children” (Benjamin Siegel, MD, FAAP, chair of the Academy's Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health and a co-author of the statement of policy).
26.C.iii. "In a previous policy statement published in 2002 and reaffirmed in 2010, the AAP supported second-parent adoption by partners of the same sex as a way to protect children’s right to maintain relationships with both parents, eligibility for health benefits and financial security. The 2013 policy statement and accompanying technical report add recommendations in support of civil marriage for same-gender couples; adoption by single parents, co-parents or second parents regardless of sexual orientation; and foster care placement regardless of sexual orientation."
26.C.iv. "A great deal of scientific research documents that there is no cause-and-effect relationship between parents’ sexual orientation and children’s well-being, according to the AAP policy. In fact, many studies attest to the normal development of children of same-gender couples when the child is wanted, the parents have a commitment to shared parenting, and the parents have strong social and economic support. Critical factors that affect the normal development and mental health of children are parental stress, economic and social stability, community resources, discrimination, and children’s exposure to toxic stressors at home or in their communities -- not the sexual orientation of their parents."
26.C.v. The Academy “supports pediatricians advocating for public policies that help all children and their parents, regardless of sexual orientation, build and maintain strong, stable, and healthy families that are able to meet the needs of their children."
26.C.vi. "The AAP has long been an advocate for all children, and this updated policy reflects a natural progression in the Academy’s support for families. If a child has two loving and capable parents who choose to create a permanent bond, it’s in the best interest of their children that legal institutions allow them to do so" (Ellen C. Perrin, MD, FAAP, Director of Research at the Center for Children with Special Needs, professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the School of Medicine of Tufts University, and co-author of the statement of policy).
26.D. For more information, see http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/American-Academy-of-Pediatrics-Supports-Same-Gender-Civil-Marriage.aspx#sthash.AqqQSCdb.dpuf.
27. Nothing suggests, therefore, that gays should not be granted all the benefits, privileges, protections, and rights that different-gender couples enjoy, including the right to be biological, adoptive, and foster parents, and everything suggests that gays and non-gays should be treated equally.
28. In fact, the percentage of different-gender couples around the world who have abused their children is in all likelihood much higher than that of same-gender couples who have done so, yet nowhere is different-gender marriage outlawed. It is hypocritical to behold the potential though rarely documented motes that could be in same-gender married couples' eyes and ignore the beams that are undeniably in many different-gender married couples' eyes.
29.A. Indeed, let it not be forgotten that practically all, if not all, the children who have run away from neglectful or abusive parents, the children whom the authorities have taken away from their parents because they have neglected or abused them, and the children whose parents have abandoned them are children of heterosexual parents.
29.B. Let it not be forgotten either that if children are living in orphanages or in foster care, often for months and even years (we remember especially Davion Henry Navar Only, a fifteen-year-old boy in Florida, who was born while his mother was in jail and therefore immediately taken away from her, and who one Sunday in October 2018 decided to take matters into his own hands by going into a church and pleading to be adopted: “My name is Davion and I've been in foster care since I was born. I know God hasn't given up on me. So I'm not giving up either. I'll take anyone. Old or young, dad or mom, black, white, purple. I don't care. And I would be really appreciative. The best I could be”), it is likewise the fault largely if not exclusively of heterosexual parents.
29.C. Ponder, therefore, the irony: because of bad HETEROsexual parents, untold numbers of children suffer; not enough HETEROsexual parents are willing to adopt them, so that thousands remain in orphanages; but when HOMOsexual couples, whose fitness as parents is crystal clear to experts in pediatrics, psychiatry, social work, and related fields (see above), are eager to adopt, many HETEROsexual legislators around the world refuse to let them. Better for a child to have two mothers or two fathers than no mother or father at all.
30. Which is to say that, contrary to the bqseless claim of opponents of same-gender civil marriage that its legalization “weakens the family” (how?), it in fact increases the number of two-parent families and thereby enhances the likelihood that more orphans will find warm, friendly families headed by two devoted parents.
31. Fairness, both to gays and to orphans, therefore requires that same-gender couples be given the same chance as different-gender couples to demonstrate their ability to be good biological, adoptive, and foster parents – to do otherwise would be to condemn same-gender couples without giving them even the slightest chance to prove themselves and to condemn orphans to more suffering, not one minute of which they have ever deserved.
32. In any case, since 35 votes are needed in the House of Representatives to approve a bill and the Labour Party holds 39 seats, it can pass without the approval of even one member of the Nationalist Party if all members of the Labour Party vote for it. Even a vote of 35 to 34 would bring more happiness and less suffering to quite a few people in Malta.