Sunday, 4 May 2014

Times: The ways of the bullies
Saturday, May 3, 2014, 00:01 by Gabi Calleja

There were celebrations outside Parliament, in Valletta, when the House approved the third reading of the Civil Union Bill.

One may understand how a dentist such as Miriam Sciberras can, as a concerned citizen, write an opinion piece that is completely devoid of truth and logic.

She, like many others, fails to recognise how presumptuous and offensive it is to assume that heterosexuality automatically imbues straight people with an understanding and appreciation of what is in the best interest of the child, a quality which gay people are seemingly devoid of. However, one would have rather different expectations from a journalist, such as Ivan Fenech who, in his article of April 8, seems to be completely lacking in any kind of journalistic integrity or analytical thinking.

He claims that the need for separation between Church and State is obvious but then litters the rest of his article with references to the loss of the Catholic Church’s influence and the corresponding decline in the country’s values.

Forcing LGBT couples to live according to the dictates of a religious belief is more akin to bullying

He criticises Minister Helena Dalli’s claim that the responsibility to ensure adequate standards of care for children in Church homes rests with the government.

Is it possible Fenech is not aware that when a care order is issued, the legal guardianship of those children is not transferred to the bishop, nuns or priests taking care of them but to the minister? Or that the Department for Social Welfare Standards is already responsible for setting and ensuring the quality of care that is provided? Or that children in care are assigned a social worker from the government entity Appoġġ to support the child and the child’s family?

Is he also not aware that, increasingly, due to the decline in religious vocations, many of the tasks previously undertaken by nuns and priests are now provided by lay care workers and professionals and that, presumably in a relatively short time frame, alternative solutions will, in any case, need to be found?

Apparently one of the ulterior motives attributed to the minister’s statement is that this would ensure that the Church would not be in a position to block adoptions by gay people. Again, surprise, surprise, Fenech seems to be unaware that the bishop and those running Church homes have no say whatsoever in the adoption process. It is the Appoġġ adoption team, the courts and the adoption board who carry out assessments and authorise adoptions.

He also seems to be unaware that gay people have had the right to apply to be considered as adoptive parents for a number of years. In fact, even had the previous government been reluctant to allow this, the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, in E.B. v France, clearly established that where countries allowed for single parent adoption no discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation was permissible.

Fenech also asserted in bold that “this bully government is bulldozing through Parliament gay adoption and it does not have a mandate for it”. Yet, the Labour Party manifesto clearly makes reference to the introduction of civil unions and several references were made by Joseph Muscat on the PL’s position with regard to adoption by same-sex couples.

The Labour Party responses to MGRM’s questionnaire, also reported in the Times of Malta website on March 2, 2013, complete with a copy of the report, clear shows the position of the PL with respect to parenting by same-sex couples as consistent with the scope of the Civil Union Bill.

Apparently, expecting journalists to go through the archives of their own newspaper is too much to expect.

It is extraordinary how Fenech manages to turn the concept of bullying on its head such that the LGBT community, forced to deal with the effects of homophobic beliefs on a daily basis, is portrayed as the aggressors forcing society to take on a new value system; as if the right to equal treatment and non-discrimination were not a principle this country would wish to embrace.

Claiming that the introduction of the Civil Union Bill will undermine family as we know it is to have one’s head firmly buried in the sand, refusing to acknowledge that families come in many different forms and that same-sex relationships and Rainbow families are already an integral part of Maltese society.

What the Civil Union Bill will provide for is the legal recognition of these relationships and families ensuring that all children, irrespective of the gender or sexual orientation of their parents, have access to equal rights and protections, including having both parents involved in their upbringing recognised as such.

Forcing LGBT couples and families to live according to the dictates of a particular religious belief is what is more akin to bullying. Denying equal treatment based on unfounded assertions that the heterosexual model of family is the only one satisfying the best interest of the child principle is more akin to bullying.

Preferring to take the coward’s way out and denigrate same-sex parenting to somehow avoid dealing with unequal power relations and strict gender roles in many heterosexual families is more akin to the motivations of bullies.

While everyone is entitled to an opinion, the least one would expect from a journalist is that it be somewhat informed and not merely a rant.

Gabi Calleja is coordinator of the Malta Gay Rights Movement.

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