JPO reacts as government launches Cohabitation Bill
Independent MP says Bill is step in right direction, but will move amendments
The Cohabitation Bill, launched today, provides for Civil Cohabitation Partnerships which may be registered between a man and a woman or two people of the same gender, to regulate their relationship.
Details were given by Justice Minister Chris Said, who said the government's purpose was not to interfere in people's private lives but to regulate matters, in the interests of the weaker partner.
The country had a reality which the government was obliged to legislate for, he said.
The law provides, among other things, for action which may be taken when a cohabitation relationship breaks down.
A relationship, including a relationship between gays, may also be regulated by Civil Cohabitation Partnerships, registered under this law. However, registration of gay partnerships would not mean recognition of a gay relationship on the same level of a family, he said.
See video above.
Replying to questions on whether the Bill would be backed in parliament, Dr Said said that would depend on the outcome of the debate in parliament.
He described the debate within the PN parliamentary group as 'lively' and said that independent MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando had been consulted.
The minister said the law is divided into two. The first applies to couples - a man and a woman or people of the same sex - who have been living together for some time. It provides legal safeguards for the consequences of such a relationship such as maintenance. Such couples would have had to be living together for five years, or two years if they have children.
In the second part, the law also provides that a couple, heterosexual or same sex, may register their partnership before a notary. In that case the partnership would start from the date of that Civil Cohabitation Partnership. In such a contract the partners would list their obligations and responsibilities to each other. Such arrangements are not recognised as families.
The Bill does not provide for siblings living together.
Neither does the Bill go into tax issues.
However, next of kin rights are being recognised for partners who register their partnership, such as in the health sector. Partners from non-EU countries will, upon registration of a partnership, enjoy the right to reside and work in Malta.
In a reaction, independent MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando said the bill is a long-overdue step in the right direction.
He said, however, that he would be proposing some amendments at the appropriate moment during the forthcoming parliamentary debate.
Dr Pullicino Orlando said he is planning to meet the MGRM and individuals associated with gay rights for their reactions and suggestions.
However he had also made other suggestions which were positively received by Dr Said.
AD - BILL DOES NOT GO FAR ENOUGH
In an initial reaction, Michael Briguglio, chairman of Alternattiva Demokratika
said that the proposed registration of same-sex couples in the cohabitation bill
is not enough."While other parties propose civil unions or registered partnerships, AD is in synch with the proposals of MGRM for recognition of same-sex marriage. Only the right of marriage represents equality," he said.
Neil Falzon, chairman of civil rights group Aditus and a consultant for the Malta Gay Rights Movement said he was disappointed by the bill.
"It does nothing to recognise same-sex relationships. Furthermore it does not recognise gay unions as families and the bill will not change anything.
He hoped that after further consultation, the bill would be amended and 'aligned with fundamental standards."
Bill disappointing - MGRM
The Malta Gay Rights' Movement said it was hugely disappointing that the bill did not accede to most of MGRM's demands and failed to attain even the minimal level of recognition acceptable, that of civil unions at a par with marriage.
As things stand, the bill acknowledges those who enter into a de jure cohabitation agreement as next of kin and grants residency rights to those who come from Third Countries but continues to exclude these couples from the government's definition of family.
For those same-sex headed households which also include children, the role and contribution of the non-biological parent is only recognised if and when the biological parent dies to the detriment of the children concerned.
Same-sex couples who were both registered on the child's birth certificate as parents, as was possible in the UK and a number of other EU countries or Australia, would not be able to register their child in Malta in a similar manner.
In effect, the child would lose a legal parent on moving to Malta.
"This is unacceptable and considered to be an infringement of the child's rights as well as a breach of the freedom of movement directive where EU citizens are concerned."
The MGRM said:
"While the government may chose to present this bill as a considerable step forward the Malta Gay Rights Movement holds that such a bill continues to stigmatise same-sex couples and their families as inferior by preventing access to equal rights and creating a separate form of recognition that is by far inferior to marriage.
"It also serves to justify and perpetuate the homophobia that exists in society. We call on the government to take a leadership role in this matter and ensure that all citizens have access to equal recognition before the law rather than allow for the prejudice and homophobia of some sectors of society from presenting a more just law."