Wednesday, 11 December 2013, 18:44 , by Neil Camilleri, UPDATE 2
Seeks distinction between civil union and marriage, omission of adoptions reference
The Nationalist Party has expressed itself in favour of civil unions in principle but is demanding that the law be amended to make a clear distinction between civil union and marriage and that adoptions not be part of the law.
Speaking in Parliament this evening, PN Secretary General Chris Said said that despite having been ignored by the government when the Civil Unions Bill was drafted, the PN is committed to give the country the best possible legislation. This is why the PN is presenting a number of amendments.
Dr Said said that the law could be changed for the better during committee stage, just like in the case of the divorce law. He said that the government should not repeat the ‘citizenship for sale’ fiasco and take heed of the Opposition’s proposals.
Dr Said said that the PN’s amendments on the Civil Unions Bill have two main aims. The first is to have a clear distinction between civil unions and marriage. “One is not better than the other, but they are not the same thing.”
The second amendment respects the fact that this is a law on civil union and not adoption. As suc there should be no reference to adoptions in the law, just as adoptions are not mentioned in the marriage act. Both parties should agree on this issue because everyone holds the interests of children at heart.
Distinction between Civil Union and marriage
Dr Said insisted that whilst there should be a clear distinction between civil unions and marriage the dignity of same sex couples should not be diminished.
“Let us make it crystal clear; to opt for a civil union is not something frivolous. It is a very serious and dignified matter. It is an important step that a couple can take to publicly declare their relationship. It is a declaration by society that it recognises that relationship and grants rights and duties. Those who look at civil union as a second class marriage have understood nothing.”
The first PN amendment says that once a civil union is registered, it should carry all the effects and consequences of a civil marriage. This should happen ‘where applicable’ because there are obvious things that apply to marriage but could never apply to a civil union.
Another amendment says that registration of a civil union should be essential for the union to be valid. And whether signed in Malta or abroad, Civil Unions should be considered as valid for all intents and purposes of the law only as long as it the process is done legally.
Another amendment says that only adults should be eligible to apply for civil unions. The current law allows for one or both applicants to be under age in extreme cases. The Opposition believes that under no circumstance should minors be allowed to enter a civil union.
The PN is also proposing to remove from the Bill references to a priest. This should be done to clarify that couples cannot be joined in civil union with a religious ritual.
Certain clause which could lead to annulment in marriage should also be removed from the law. Impotence should not be accepted as means to annul a civil union.
Bill should not make reference to adoptions by same sex couples
“We believe that adoption should be done in the best interests of children. This is why we believe that the Civil Unions Bill should not make reference to adoptions by same sex couples. We are asking for this amendment because we believe that this is a truly sensitive issue and we have to ensure that we act responsibly and only after being certain that any changes to the adoption law do not jeopardise children’s rights.”
Dr Said insisted that adoptions should be regulated by the relative law and not by the Civil Unions Bill. Both the Marriage Act and the Civil Unions Bill are centred on the rights of the couple. But adoption is not an issue related to the safeguarding of the rights of the couple. Adoption is a right of the children.
Social Impact Assessment on adoptions
The PN is also proposing a wide ranging analysis within the Parliamentary Committee on Family Affairs. The committee should commission serious studies and launch a public consultation process about Malta’s adoption structures and their effect on children. A Social Impact Assessment should also be carried out on adoptions by same sex couples. The committee’s recommendations should then be presented to Parliament so that the law can be changed, if need be, in the best interests of children.
Dr Said said that the government is aware that there are conflicting studies on adoption by same sex couples. Some point to negative effects while others paint a different picture.
“This is nothing more than an appeal for the our country to ask itself if the time has come to change our ‘traditional’ views on adoption. Let us be sure of what we are doing.”
Dr Said said that if the government and the Opposition agree on something in principle they should also agree on the details.
“This is a very important law and we should all strive to make it as good as possible. It is vital that we reach consensus. The Opposition is being posivite, it is making concrete and reasonable proposals. We hope that the government will not ignore us this time.”