Friday, 27 December 2013

David Gold: Malta is on the verge of legalizing same-gender civil marriage under a slightly different name: civil unions

16.12.2013 by David Gold

On Monday, 16 December 2013, the Parliament of Malta approved, for the second time, a bill providing for the legalization of civil unions for all consenting adult couples, no matter their gender, no matter their sexual orientation.

The rule in the Parliament of Malta is to examine, debate, and vote on each bill a maximum of three times. If a bill has been approved once, it stands a chance of being approved a second and third time. If it has been approved twice, it is virtually certain to be approved a third time.

The bill grants all couples contracting a civil union all the benefits, privileges, protections, and rights (including the right to adopt children) that Maltese law now and in the future grants different-gender couples having contracted a civil marriage.

Thus, civil unions and civil marriages will be equal in the eyes of the law, the only difference between them being a slight terminological one, made necessary by the need to weaken the opposition of certain Roman Catholic Maltese (about 96 percent of the population of Malta consists of baptized Roman Catholics) who objected to application of the word marriage to anything other than the legally recognized union of a woman and a man.

Making that minor terminological concession to opponents of the bill was a tiny price to pay in return for an enormous victory in a very Roman Catholic country: full equality, in the eyes of the law, between different- and same-gender couples whose union the state recognizes.

It is not impossible that, in coming years, after a good number of Maltese realize that legalization of gender-neutral civil unions has not caused the sky to fall or civilization to come to an end in Malta, opposition to application of the word marriage to same-gender civil unions will dwindle to such an extent that the country's parliament will feel comfortable converting all civil unions to civil marriages, thereby removing that small terminological distinction.

1 comment:

  1. Update: Sarah Gauci, the Clerk of the House of Representatives (the Parliament of Malta), has informed me that on 16 December 2013 the vote on the second reading of the bill for the legalization of civil unions for all consenting adult couples, no matter their gender, no matter their sexual orientation, was taken by the Speaker's asking the members present whether any of them opposed the bill.

    Not a single member expressed opposition. Consequently, the vote was recorded as being nem. com. (the abbreviation of "nemine contradicente," that is, 'without dissent').

    Although that vote does not necessarily mean that all the members present on 16 December 2013 will approve the bill the next time it comes up for a vote (at the end of the committee stage, more on which below), it is a clear sign that supporters of the bill have every reason to believe that a majority of them will.

    The bill is now in its third stage, called "the committee stage." The website of the House of Representatives describes it as follows:

    "The Speaker leaves the Chair and the House resolves itself into Committee which is now presided over by a Chairperson. If the bill does not provide for any appropriation from the Consolidated Fund, a Minister may move that it be considered by the Standing Committee for the Consideration of Bills. During the Committee Stage, each clause of the bill is examined separately and in detail. Both Government and Opposition Members may propose any number of amendments during the discussion on a particular clause, at the end of which a vote is taken on all said amendments and the clause as amended. When the discussion ends the Chairperson informs the House about the progress made and whether the bill was passed with or without amendments."

    Then comes the stage called "the third reading." Again from the website of the House of Representatives:

    "The Third Reading of the bill may now be put on the Parliamentary agenda and moved by the Minister concerned. After putting the question Mr Speaker may either declare the bill unanimously approved (nem. con.) or carried. If a division is requested, the House shall suspend its proceedings for 20 minutes. Upon resuming, the Chair shall order the Chamber doors to be closed and requests the Clerk to the House to call out all the Members' names and record the number of ‘Ayes' and ‘Noes'. Mr Speaker will then be in a position to declare whether the bill has been carried through its Third Reading stage by a majority of Members present and voting, save as otherwise provided in the Constitution. This voting procedure applies to all votes taken during the previously mentioned stages of the bill."

    At the last stages, "The bill is then presented to the President of Malta for his assent and published in the Government Gazette, thus becoming a Parliamentary Act."

    To keep up with developments, you may go to

    David Gold