Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Independent: Doubts on whether new President will sign gay marriage bill

Tuesday, 04 March 2014, 10:00

One of the first major acts of soon-to-be President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca may very well be the signing of the ‘gay marriage’ bill, which will include the opening up of child adoptions to gay couples, one of the poster initiatives of the Labour government in its drive to offer equal rights to all.

Doubts exist as to whether Ms Coleiro Preca will sign the ‘gay marriage’ bill into law without putting up a fight. Her stand against divorce three years ago put her as being among the more conservative and traditional exponents of a Labour Party that was being pushed by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat towards liberal and progressive stands.

One option for the government may be to rush the bill through the House before the current President George Abela’s tenure comes to an end on 4 April. This will further enrage the PN which has already said that the bill is a hasty job on the government’s part, and is calling for further discussion, especially on adoptions by gay couples.

If this is not possible, it will be one of Ms Coleiro Preca’s first tasks as President of the Republic. But the signing of the bill into law will not come easy to Ms Coleiro Preca, a strong advocate of traditional family values and so vociferous in her opposition to the 2011 introduction of divorce.

At the height of the divorce debate, Ms Coleiro Preca had dramatically announced her intention to not contest the March 2013 general elections, and was an active voice in the anti-divorce campaign.

“Never during my 36-year political career in the Labour camp have I done anything for personal benefit and without hesitation I say that I will be retiring from politics, having less than when I started because I gave up my time, health and used my family’s funds to serve,” Ms Coleiro Preca had said at the time.

She had argued that no scientific studies actually showed that children were better off with divorce, and it actually may lead to behavioural problems in children.

Her stance in the divorce referendum was seen as detracting from the Labour Party’s liberal image and attracting a lot of unwanted attention to an otherwise unified pro-divorce movement (with the exception of another Labour MP, Adrian Vassallo).

Ms Coleiro Preca had abstained in the second reading stage of the divorce debate in Parliament, but voted in favour in the final vote on the third reading.

Being on different wings of the same party, Dr Coleiro Preca and Dr Muscat have not seen eye to eye on several occasions and her nomination to the presidency may well be seen as a way for the Prime Minister to remove her from the party’s heart and eliminate any resistance she puts up at Cabinet level on matters pertaining to social affairs, which are central to Ms Coleiro Preca’s beliefs.

The popular Family and Social Solidarity Minister, who obtained nearly 6,000 votes in one electoral district in the last election, did not initially take kindly to Dr Muscat’s bid to nominate her for the presidency. At 55, she is still quite young in her political career and is seen as being one of the more productive ministers.

Her nomination came in the wake of disagreement with the Prime Minister over plans to transfer social workers from under her responsibility to the Health Ministry, as reported by this newspaper yesterday. Ms Coleiro Preca is resisting the move, but her departure from the ministry will now create one less obstacle for the prime minister to carry out his plan.

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