Give gay couples the right to marry

This country of ours is still struggling to free itself from the shackles that bind the political class with the Catholic Church.

Don’t get me wrong. The Catholic Church, locally, has had a profound, positive impact on our society. It has been contributing in areas which range from education to the care of the elderly and the disabled for centuries, often stepping in to fill the gaps left open by the government. However, the policies of our political parties should not be adapted in such a way as to ensure that the metaphorical feathers of the Catholic hierarchy in Malta, which leans towards the conservative when compared with the rest of the Universal Church, are left unruffled.

Our society has evolved more than our political class in this respect. This is evidenced by the result of the divorce referendum last year. Divorce would not have passed were it simply left up to Parliament.

The resounding support given to the Private Member’s Bill I co-presented with Evarist Bartolo in the House was simply due to the fact that the yes lobby won the plebiscite the Prime Minister called for, against all odds. Most MPs were averse to going against the people’s will after such a clear victory for common sense.

This should have served as a wake-up call. It didn’t.

Gay couples are still waiting for some, any, form of recognition in the year 2012 in European Malta notwithstanding the many and varied carrots that are periodically dangled in front of them to win them over when their political support is required.

I believe that gay couples should be given the right to marry. The reasons are identical to the ones the divorce movement I formed part of brought forward with respect to the right to remarry.

Why should a government, in its right senses, discourage those who want to take up the obligations and responsibilities of marriage? In the absence of a contractual bond of this kind, the government has to step in to protect and sustain those whose marriage has broken down or whose partner has died who would otherwise have been legally protected.

The only reason many are averse to the idea of gay marriage is simply a misguided one based on religious beliefs. Those who base their arguments on such beliefs should be free to do so. They should not, however, be in a position to dictate to others the manner in which they should live their lives.

A political party should never try to pander to the sensibilities of the “fire and brimstone” brigade by denying fundamental rights to minorities.

The first step in the right direction in this respect should be the immediate introduction of a cohabitation law that takes the needs and rights of the gay community into account. A cohabitation law was promised in the Nationalist Party’s electoral programme for the 1998 election. This government promised to ensure it was included in our statute books by the end of 2011.

It’s about time we kept our promises.

Hundreds of Maltese couples are suffering needlessly as a result of our procrastination. The homophobia that is rife in our society is being encouraged by the phobia our political class has when it comes to discussing and legislating in favour of gay rights.

Dr Pullicino Orlando is a Nationalist member of Parliament

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