Friday, 27 December 2013

Times: No secret pre-electoral agreement
Monday, December 23, 2013, 00:01 by Helena Dalli

Last week, we concluded the second reading of the Civil Union Bill. Ironically, those who said the government was rushing on this matter refused to concede some extra time in my winding up speech so that I could answer all the questions raised by the various speakers.

Parliamentary debate transcripts are the source one looks up (or ought to) if one wants to get as close to as true an account as can be of what is said on any matter being discussed. It is the place where all that is said is recorded word for word, so little room for misinterpretation, when compared to other media.

After listening to all the arguments, I had quite a bit to cover and thus asked for some more time to leave nothing out. The Opposition Whip went over to the Leader of the Opposition with the request, to which the latter strongly shook his head: no.

Anyhow, nothing new when it comes to contradictions and this civil union journey has been replete with paradoxes, inconsistencies and ambiguities, not least from those saying they do not oppose the Bill.

One of the latest strange declarations was that made by the Leader of the Opposition on State television implying that there was some ‘pre-electoral arrangement’ between the Labour Party and the Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM). Simon Busuttil suggested that maybe it is because of this ‘arrangement’ that he does not enjoy the full support of the ‘gay lobby’, as he calls it.

Of course, there was nothing of the sort and the MGRM immediately replied to Busuttil’s statement:

“The MGRM would like to categorically assert that no secret agreement, as implied by Simon Busuttil, existed between the Labour Party and the so-called gay lobby. MGRM held meetings with the PN, the PL and AD prior to the election and sent out a questionnaire requesting them to state their position on a number of issues that affect the LGBT community.

“Any current discord between the MGRM and the PN is based solely on the PN’s opposition to the granting of equal recognition before the law to same-sex couples and their children and the PN’s call for a social impact assessment before gay couples are allowed to be considered as prospective adoptive parents. The portrayal of gay people and their loving relationships as harmful to children is discriminatory and deeply offensive and the root cause of the disagreement between the so called ‘gay lobby’ and the PN.”

Busuttil has a clear answer to his fantasy pre-electoral agreement, so he need not worry about this figment of his own imagination. What I think should concern him is his position, which is different to that of the PN – when he was deputy leader - prior to the election.

The PN’s position then, as declared by former premier and party leader Lawrence Gonzi was that a new PN government would be ready to change the law to allow gay couples to be eligible to appear before the adoptions board as a couple – up to now, gay persons are entitled to do so as single - and that “the important thing is for experts to confirm the child will have a loving and caring family, irrespective of the adoptive parents’ sexual orientation.”
This civil union journey has been replete with paradoxes, inconsistencies and ambiguities

The PN, under Busuttil, is backtracking. He is now suggesting that the matter is sent to Parliament’s Social Affairs Committee for a social impact assessment. The committee’s chairwoman, Deborah Schembri, disagrees with this proposal. She declares that Busuttil discriminates when he makes such a statement.

In the meantime, the PN continues to mislead in this adoptions matter when it knows that, in fact, access to adoption is being tightened. Whereas today a gay person may adopt on his or her own, a couple in a civil union will both be scrutinised by the adoptions board.

It is professionals who will evaluate prospective parents whether they are heterosexual, gay, single, married or in a civil union. They will continue to assess.

I am sure that Busuttil is also aware that there are European Court decisions which rule out any discrimination against gay people, even on matters of adoption.

The MGRM was clear with all three parties before the election. They sent a questionnaire which was published in this newspaper. The Labour Party was likewise unequivocal when it replied yes to “The introduction of civil unions at par with marriage” and yes to “Our party will take immediate steps to allow same-sex couples access to third party and second party adoption”.

The government is consistent in acting on what was said before the election. Not so the Opposition.

I wish the editor, staff and readers of Times of Malta a healthy and serene Christmas.

Helena Dalli is Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties.

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