Sunday, 2 February 2014

Malta Today: Minister questions Opposition’s ‘U-turn’ on same-sex adoption

Civil liberties minister Helena Dalli interviewed in MaltaToday
Sunday 2 February 2014 - 07:30 by Raphael Vassallo

Helena Dalli: Even Gonzi, arguably more conservative than Simon Busuttil, agreed with the principle that each case should be decided on its merits, by experts, and not on the basis of sexual orientation

A volte-face by the Nationalist Party on the issue of same-sex couples has demolished tripartite consensus on the issue, and represents a step backwards in terms of national unity and equality, civil liberties minister Helena Dalli told MaltaToday.

In an interview in today's edition, Dalli said that until last December one could talk of political consensus regarding the issue of whether same-sex couples should legally be allowed to adopt children.

On two separate occasions, former Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi had stressed that sexual orientation should not be a determining factor in adoption cases, so long as the best interests of the child are evaluated by experts beforehand.

"For the PN the important thing is the welfare of the child and that experts confirm that the child will have a loving and caring family, irrespective of the adoptive parents' sexual orientation," a spokesman for the party had revealed in January 2013.

With the Labour Party simultaneously proposing a civil unions bill and Alternattiva Demokratika favouring full marriage equality, gay rights campaigners welcomed the emergence of a tripartite consensus that adoption rights should not be based on sexual orientation of adoptive parents.

But with its insistence, since last December, on a social impact assessment of the effects of same-sex adoption across the board, Helena Dalli claims that the PN has changed tack under new leadership and now pursues a more confrontational line.

"Even Gonzi, who was arguably more conservative than Simon Busuttil, agreed with the principle that each case should be decided on its merits, by experts, and not on the basis of sexual orientation. Joseph Muscat agreed also, and for once there was, or seemed to be, consensus on this issue. It seems we have taken a step backwards since then."

But opinions differ on the precise direction of this 'step'. The Nationalist Party officially endorsed the civil unions bill, albeit with reservations, last October; and Busuttil in parliament described this decision as a "a step forward from the past, when, maybe, not enough was done in this sector by the party."

Secretary-general Chris Said later confirmed that the Opposition was committed to supporting the bill through to the second reading stage, but said that support for the third and final reading would be conditional on certain amendments.

The PN has subsequently tabled a list of proposed amendments, but these do not prima facie concern adoptive rights at all. There has since been no formal change to the policy approved last October.

Nonetheless, individual opposition MPs have likewise signalled a change of direction. Last month former finance minister Tonio Fenech declared he would oppose the bill on the grounds that it permitted same-sex adoption.

"If I had to vote on the current civil unions bill, I would vote against because it gives gay couples the right to adopt - a principle which the Nationalist Party disagrees with," Tonio Fenech said on Radju Malta'sGhandi xi Nghid.

"As a result, I would not be inconsistent with my party's stand, and would vote against the current civil unions bill."

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