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Bill based on ‘what our society accepts’

Bill’s proposal is ‘far inferior to marriage’

The Bill disappointed gay rights groups. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

The Bill disappointed gay rights groups. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

The State will not recognise cohabiting partners on the same level as families bourne out of marriage under a proposed law on cohabitation.

The law makes it clear that cohabitation is no longer illicit or illegal

The long-awaited Bill published yesterday by Justice Minister Chris Said introduces the idea of a “civil cohabitation partnership essentially a registered contract between two people.

“We do not want to put cohabitation on the same level as a family constituted in marriage,” Dr Said insisted at a press conference launching the consultation process on the Bill.

“The Bill is based on what the government believes is right and is acceptable to society.”

The civil cohabitation partnership is a public deed between the individuals, including same-sex couples, outlining mutual obligations and how they intend to organise their relationship.

Couples who register a civil cohabitation partnership will be given next-of-kin rights, which include the right to take decisions on the partner’s behalf in health matters. Registered partnerships will automatically give a non-EU spouse residency and work permit rights.

However, the Bill has disappointed the gay community. The Malta Gay Rights Movement,a lobby group, said it was “hugely disappointed” as the Bill failed to recognise same-sex couples and their families as civil unions on a par with marriage, the minimum acceptable to them.

Replying to questions on whether the Bill enjoyed majority backing in Parliament, the minister said it would depend on the outcome of the parliamentary debate. Dr Said said the debate within the PN parliamentary group was “lively” and independent MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando had been consulted.

Dr Pullicino Orlando, who earlier this year publicly spoke in favour of gay marriage, yesterday said the Bill was long overdue but a step in the right direction. He would be proposing “some amendments” during the parliamentary debate and would meet the MGRM and those associated with gay rights for their reactions and suggestions.

“One issue I feel extremely strong about is the status of children adopted by gay individuals who later enter a registered partnership.

“If the adoptive parent dies, the child should have the right to continue living with the surviving partner, who would have assisted in the upbringing,” Dr Pullicino Orlando said.

Although the civil cohabitation partnership is not too different from the current situation where any two individuals can sign an agreement in front of a notary outlining mutual obligations, Dr Said noted the arrangement would now be regulated by a specific law.

“The law makes it clear that cohabitation is no longer illicit or illegal and this will clarify matters in court if the relationship fails.”

The Bill also makes provisions for situations where cohabiting partners do not register their relationship with a notary.

The law will recognise the rights of the individuals if they lived together under the same roof in “an intimate and committed relation-ship” for at least five years. The period drops to two years if children are born from the relationship.

The Bill makes no tax-related provisions and does not cover siblings or relatives living under the same roof.

Cohabiting partners from previous marriages cannot register their relationship and will not be recognised as such unless they are legally separated.

Reacting to the Bill, a Labour Party spokesman said the opposition will wait for the draft law that the government will eventually present in Parliament.

“We will comment in due course but (Labour leader) Joseph Muscat has long taken the lead and publicly stated that he is in favour of civil unions for gay couples. That position stands,” the spokesman said.

The Bill was criticised by Alternattiva Demokratika chairman Michael Briguglio, who said the proposed registration of same-sex couples was not enough.

“While other political parties propose civil unions or registered partnerships, AD is in sync with the proposals of MGRM for recognition of same-sex marriage. Only the right of marriage represents equality.”

A more scathing reaction was that of the gay rights lobby group.

Gabi Calleja, MGRM co-ordinator, said the Bill continued to stigmatise same-sex couples and their families by preventing access to equal rights and creating a separate form of recognition that is “by far inferior to marriage”.

Public consultation on the Bill is open until the end of September.

The government intends to kick start the discussion in Parliament when it reconvenes on October 1.

Regulating cohabitation

Who is covered?
Two adults, of the same or opposite sex, who live as a couple in an intimate and committed relationship.

Who is not covered?
Siblings living under the same roof or related adults.

What is a civil cohabitation partnership?
Cohabiting individuals can register their partnership and formalise obligations in front of a notary by public deed.

What will the contract cover?
The parties’ reciprocal and individual obligations, including amounts due if one partner is dependent on the other. It must contain a description of the house where the couple will live, who has legal title over it and how any children are to be maintained, brought up and educated.

If a couple does not register, will they be covered by law?
Yes. Two adults will be considered as legally cohabiting after living together for five years; two if they have children.

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