Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Times: Embracing the minorities

Thursday, November 21, 2013, 00:01 by Mario Farrugia-Borg

Since my candidature for MEP elections on a Labour Party ticket was announced in the media some days ago, many have asked me what, in my opinion, is a legitimate question: given that the Labour government will be introducing civil unions between persons of the same sex, what is your position regarding this issue? I have therefore decided to make my position official and clear.

First and foremost, I believe in a secular state wherein politicians, although having morals and values which may be guided by their religious beliefs, should not impose those morals and values on others especially on those who do not subscribe to the same religious beliefs.

Freedom to practice any religion or no religion at all, and the right to live life as one wishes, as long as one does not impinge on the rights of others and the good of society is safeguarded, should be imperative. In this regard, my position is very clear: the government should legislate so that the rights of all Maltese, irrespective of their religion, sexual orientation, standard of living, etc., are safeguarded.

I have absolutely no problem with the fact that Labour has embraced the LGBT community. Indeed, that is exactly what it should have done, just like it has embraced the Muslim community and other minorities.

As a matter of fact, I would have had a problem with the Labour Party had it decided to alienate any minority, whether that be the LGBT community, the Muslims, the hunting community or the ornithologists. Labour is a political organisation and as such, unless the principles of any minority go against its own fundamental principles, should embrace all Maltese citizens.

My position regarding civil unions is also very clear. But first of all, we have to establish what is understood by a civil union. The government has made it clear that it will not be introducing gay marriages, but civil unions, thus implying that the two are not the same.

Civil unions are not about two people of the same gender having sexual relations. This is being practised in Malta with or without civil unions, and unless we want to go back to pre-1970s legislation, when sodomy was considered a crime, we agree that there is not much we can do about it.

Religion as such, whether Islam, Christianity or I dare say even other major religions, prohibit sexual relations between unmarried people, whether man and woman, two men or two women. But it is not the government’s business to interfere with the private, sexual lives of couples, whether they be heterosexual or homosexual, married or unmarried.

It is however very much the government’s business to safeguard the civil rights of the Maltese. For example, when a person is on a life-supporting machine, and there is no hope, who would be the one to decide if and when that machine is switched off?

What about other rights such as inheritance? What about other legal obligations towards a person with whom one has shared most of his life? Indeed, these are some of the issues which civil unions should be about, irrespective of whether the relationship between two people of the same sex is sexual or purely platonic.

It would be a mistake to equate and relegate civil unions to simply recognising at law a sexual relationship between persons of the same gender.

The Labour Party in government has a loud and clear mandate to introduce civil unions in Malta. This was promised in its electoral manifesto and it would be grossly irresponsible of it to shun this promise. The argument that the people voted for a whole package and not for individual promises does not hold water since, in that case, we may need to call a referendum before we implement each and every promise we made prior to the general election.

Neither, to be completely honest, am I convinced that minority rights should be decided via referenda.

I was not in favour of holding a referendum on the introduction of divorce.

What if, for example, one was to hold a referendum on whether Islam should be practised in Malta?

Somehow I have a feeling about what the result of that referendum would be. But would that be fair? Something quite similar happened in Switzerland in 2009 when a referendum was held on whether minarets should be banned.

Regarding adoption, let me start by saying that I strongly believe that, in an ideal situation, children should be raised by their natural parents in a loving, healthy environment. But an ideal situation is not always possible, so then one has to look at the next bestpossible scenario.

Before I go any further, it is pertinent to mention that LGBT persons are already allowed to adopt in Malta.

Adoption is open to both married couples and single people, and obviously when single persons file for adoption, applicants are not asked about their sexual orientation.

So from a legal point of view, LGBT persons who are in a civil union cannot be stopped from adopting children as otherwise that would be blatant discrimination when compared to other LGBT individuals who are not in such a union.

With adoption I feel very strongly: let every case be decided on its own merits, with the best interests of the child coming first and foremost.

My position regarding these and other similar issues is completely in line with that of the Labour Party and there is nothing sensational about it.

Malta cannot be a European state on paper alone but must recognise that the civil, social and religious rights of the Maltese are no less than those of other European citizens.

Mario Farrugia-Borg is a Labour candidate for the European Parliament elections.

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