Saturday, 23 November 2013

Times: Some education about civil unions
Wednesday, November 6, 2013, 00:01 by Jonathan Shaw

When we voted for divorce, the majority made a clear choice. The vote allowed people to choose their own destiny. Instead of forcing separated people to build their new relationships outside of wedlock, they can now remarry civilly.

And this is because, ironically, the divorce vote was also a statement in favour of marriage rather than against it.

Then came civil unions. In its electoral manifesto the Labour Party promised to introduce civil unions for gay couples.

The details were not clear until a few weeks ago, but they should have come as no surprise. After all, the result was inevitable.

The Nationalist Party, rightly so, agreed to support this Bill while distancing itself from placing it at an equal par with marriage.

Now it is clear that civil union and gay rights have a clear consensus across all parties and in a few years’ time, civil unions will no longer be called civil unions and this debate would have long been forgotten.

Credit to the gay rights frontliners who over the years proactively campaigned for their recognition.

Gay couples have a right to family life, just like heterosexual couples. Even if we deny them that right, they will do it anyway as they are already doing today.

This is happening because Malta is no longer behind the times.

We are on a par with leading European and Western countries.

And it is the Maltese people, not just the gay community, who deserve the credit for this – not any political party.

The Maltese people first voted for the values of the European Union then insisted on living and enshrining those values.

My advice is therefore no different from the advice of Pope Francis to his Church: let’s stop obsessing about gay rights and start focusing on what is important. And what’s that? Full respect towards human beings whatever the lifestyle, sexual orientation, skin colour and religious beliefs.

We also have mothers and fathers that are gay and make fantastic parents and it is also a reality that there is a small percentage of children who already are or will soon be raised by two fathers or two mothers.

This is clearly not the conventional set-up but this is not to say that homosexual parents are less suitable or caring than heterosexual parents.

We are all aware of cases of bad heterosexual parents and couples who failed as parents. Likewise there are gay people who can make great parents.

I also think a loving, tight-knit family could provide a better future for children who would otherwise be raised at an institution – no matter how well-meaning the institution.

All in all, be it for a single individual, heterosexual or gay couple, the adoption process must still be carried out and each case decided on its own merits.

What worries me is society. It is true that society has made great strides forward and I am proud of the changes we have seen in the past years.

But I am also very aware of the darker sides of society and human behaviour.

When I was a schoolboy, it was a big deal to find out that a child in my class had separated parents.

It was a taboo and very few children, parents or teachers were prepared to deal with this emergent reality.

Many children were bullied unnecessarily. Teachers treated them differently and other parents were wary.

Our duty today is to minimise the risks of this happening again.

We cannot use this as an excuse to preclude gay couples from having families. That is neither possible nor desirable.

What we must do is educate about the importance of equality and prepare ourselves for this reality.

This should be our top priority, whether we form part of the Nationalist Party, the Government, the Church or the education system. Whoever we are, let’s stop debating and start educating. The future is upon us, and it is a beautiful place.

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