Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Malta Today: Family expert to give her views on gay adoption before parliamentary committee

Opposition wants to hear the view of family expert Angela Abela before agreeing with clauses allowing same-sex couples the possibility to adopt.
Tuesday 4 February 2014 - 22:47 by Miriam Dalli

Professor Angela Abela, the Head of the Department of Family Studies, will be asked to give her views to a parliamentary committee on amendments to the law allowing same-sex couples the possibility to adopt.

The call was made by the Nationalist Opposition who insisted that the view of the family expert should be heeded before "rushing to take" any decisions.

Yesterday, the Opposition requested a ruling after insisting that a meeting of the parliamentary select committee on family affairs was cancelled only 24 hours before it was to be held. Abela was to appear before the committee discussing the Civil Unions Bill.

This evening, when the parliamentary committee for the consideration of bills met to start discussing the same bill, the Opposition's representatives - Chris Said, Beppe Fenech Adami and Claudette Buttigieg - said they wanted to hear the view of the family expert before approving any clauses related to adoptions.

The Speaker ruled that Abela should carry out her presentation to the MPs. Government whip Carmelo Abela pointed out that he had invited Abela to this evening's sitting. Due to the short notice, Angela Abela however said that she required more time to prepare herself.

It was also pointed out during the committee that the whips had already agreed to both sides inviting whoever they wanted to attend the meeting.

"Both sides knew they could invite whoever they wanted to and that everyone who felt should intervene would be allowed to do so. So why wasn't Abela invited?" civil liberties minister Helena Dalli asked the PN MPs.

Insisting that they would not go ahead with the approval of the clauses if they didn't first here what Abela had to say, Fenech Adami commented that it would be "useless" if her opinion was to be heard after the clauses on adoptions were approved.

At one point, Fenech Adami grilled Dalli on whether the Department of Family Studies at the University of Malta had been consulted on the matter.

"We consulted with a consultative council on LGBT rights which carried out its research, its studies, draft the bill and presented it to us," she replied.

Intervening, MGRM co-ordinator Gabi Calleja pointed out that while Angela Abela was a family expert, "however I do not know of any studies carried out on children with gay parents".

"I think that we cannot take her expertise for granted. Nor has the family institute every carried out such a research," she said.

Not to discriminate against heterosexual couples, the Civil Unions Act allows both heterosexual and homosexual couples the right to a civil union.

This possibility however leads to Chris Said to ask "for clarification" on whether this meant that heterosexual couples would now have the option to choose between marriage and civil unions while same-sex couples could only choose civil unions.

The question irked Dalli who in reply said: "Do you want to include marriage for same-sex couples as well?"

During the committee meeting, the minister was very vocal in her defence of gay couples being allowed the possibility to adopt: "We would be discriminating against same-sex couples if we deny them the opportunity to appear before the board which evaluates parents wanting to adopt."

Disagreeing, Chris Said said this was not a matter of discrimination: "It's not about a couple's right to adopt but about the children's rights."

An amendment pushed by the Opposition was voted out, after the government side argued that if a mistake were to happen, the consequences would be worse. The Opposition had proposed that the following amendment should be included: "the registration of a civil union is essential to the validation of the said civil union and the civil effects of the same union".

In other words, the civil union would only be valid after the couple registers their union even after signing the contract.

But according to Silvan Agius, policy coordinator with the Ministry for Social Dialogue, this could become problematic if between the signing the contract and the registration one of the couple passes away. Legally, the living partner could lose everything and the deceased partner's will would go to the relatives.

Agius, who got married to his husband in Belgium, explained that a public registrar was present when the two got married.

But like the anomaly that existed before the divorce legislation was introduced, the Civil Unions Bill also has its own: the status of same-sex couples married abroad will be recognised in Malta.

Parliamentary secretary for justice Owen Bonnici said that this clause was important as Malta risked breaching EU law if it were not to recognise the marriage status obtained by couples abroad and who were now living in Malta.

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