Labour leader Joseph Muscat yesterday accused the government of “institutionalised homophobia” over Justice Minister Chris Said’s refusal to equate gay couples with families when presenting the Cohabitation Bill.

However, Dr Said lashed out at Dr Muscat’s “sensationalism”, saying his comments were misinterpreted and he had never made any homophobic comments.

The minister had said the draft law did not put cohabiting couples on a par with families of married couples in the eyes of the law, which itself provides no definition of family.

Dr Said acknowledged that people in intimate relationships considered their partners to be part of their core family, even if they were not married.

Speaking during an unrelated press conference, Dr Muscat described Dr Said’s comments as an “unacceptable” confirmation of “GonziPN’s homophobic politics”.

He said Labour believed that families were formed irrespective of sexual orientation, even if he refused to say what Labour was proposing differently. The party would express its position in Parliament in due time, he said.

Meanwhile, the PN issued a statement saying Dr Muscat was trying to give the impression that he was in favour of gay marriage when he had already publicly declared otherwise on several occasions.

Dr Muscat’s press conference was called to reveal the theme of next month’s Labour congress.

It emerged that Dr Muscat would be addressing a mass meet-ing at Ta’ Qali the day after Independence Day, to conclude the party’s congress.

The congress will invite party supporters and members of the public to have their say on various issues to shape Labour’s priorities and to give a direction to its electoral manifesto, which is still being written.

Asked what MP Karmenu Vella and Labour activist Aaron Farrugia had been doing since being tasked with drawing up the manifesto, Dr Muscat said their work focused on economic analysis and proposals.

Labour would listen to the people through a first-of-its-kind event, in which everyone can suggest the priorities and direction they want to take the party to take.

He described the approach as “horizontal” rather than “top down”, reiterating that the manifesto would not be a wish-list but a roadmap for the future.

The congress has been themed A Future that Unites Us (Futur li Jgħaqqadna) because the PL is not focused on the past, which may have been divisive.

The theme was timely, Dr Muscat said, because in the past few days, following the death of Dom Mintoff, the country had united in mourning, despite the former Prime Minister’s controversial nature.

He said Labour did not care about anyone’s past but was interested in working with everyone towards a better future.

The congress, which will begin on September 14 and end on September 23, will reach a climax on September 22, when Ta’ Qali will host a Labour mass meeting.

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi will also address the PN’s Independence Day celebrations on September 20, in what could signal the start of an electoral campaign.

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