Thursday, 26 December 2013

Malta Today: Joseph’s basic principles

I agree with Muscat that allowing same-sex couples to adopt is a basic principle. But he should use the same equality yardstick in migration and citizenship.
Thursday, December 12, 2013 by James Debono

Gay people committed to the principle of equality, should see the bigger picture of a government which is very selective in its basic principles

If one believes that same-sex love and heterosexual families are equal, they should have no problem accepting a law that treats all couples equally when it comes to adopting children

Joseph Muscat is right in pointing out that by granting same sex couples this right, one is simply saying that these couples should be entitled as any other couple to adopt a child. But it will be the competent authority to decide what is in the best interest of the child.

I cannot fathom the Opposition's argument for a 'social impact assessment' before adoptions by same sex couples is discussed. It is reminiscent of arguments by the anti-divorce brigade when Żwieġ Bla Divorzju criticised MPs for not looking into the impact divorce would have on Maltese society.

"Before someone builds a hotel, an environment impact assessment is conducted to determine what impact the new building will have on its surrounding landscape... But when it comes to the divorce issue, MPs have so far failed to analyze and assess the impact divorce will have on society if it is introduced. People have a right to know the facts before they cast their vote," the movement's chairman Andre Camilleri had claimed.

In reality, an impact study will be conducted on each single adoption case irrespective of whether the couple is gay or not. Nobody is granted an automatic right to adopt.

It is also problematic to treat rights and affection on the same level as planning applications that have a direct physical impact on the everyday life of people.

A social impact study on the way the country, including its education system, is prepared to cater for these new families is surely a very good idea. But no social impact study can tell us whether gay adoptions should be introduced or not. It is either a right that one accepts, or not. The principle underlying the whole debate is whether one believes in full equality of not.

The Opposition says adoption rights should be established in the adoption law and not in the civil unions act. The only problem in this case is that the present law only permits single adults and married couples to adopt. Therefore if one believes in equality one has to make it clear in the law that same-sex couples are entitled to the same rights as married couples.

All this legal mumbo jumbo could have been avoided had the law simply proposed extending marriage rights to same-sex couples. For if we have accepted the most unpopular and controversial aspect of being gay, why not go the whole hog and call a spade a spade?

While I support Muscat's stance in favour of equality on this particular issue, I cannot but cringe at the way he is sending contradictory messages on so many other issues. The same PM who now talks of basic principles was the same one who prepared a pushback of migrants to Libya before being stopped by the European Court of Human Rights. There was no talk of basic principles back then.

Neither did Muscat respect the underlying idea of equality enshrined in international legislation which gives everyone the right to apply for asylum in another country.

The same commitment for equality is entirely lacking in the new law on citizenship, which effectively creates a priority class of rich migrants who are given automatic access to citizenship.

If Muscat really believes in the basic principle of equality he would propose a law through which every foreigner who has been recognised as a Maltese resident for a number of, say five, years should be eligible to apply for citizenship. He may well retain his investment programme by offering residence in return for investment in the country. But the principle of equality demands that everyone should be treated the same irrespective of their financial means.

Moreover, he should take a cue from Mgr Philip Calleja who in a recent article in Lehen is-Sewwa, called for the granting of citizenship to babies and young children saved from the sea by the Armed Forces of Malta and whose parents are never identified.

If equality is a basic principle it should apply to everyone: irrespective of colour, creed, sexual orientation and financial means.

My hunch is that Muscat's commitment to equality is based on the niches he considers vital for his hegemonic ambitions. Surely gay adoption is an unpopular measure, but it seals his pact with the gay community while exposing the conservatism of the Opposition, which has to represent the vast majority of its voters who are conservative and prejudiced against adoptions by same-sex couples.

But I trust that gays, especially those committed to the principle of equality, can also see the bigger picture of a government which is very selective in its basic principles.

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