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Union – certainly, adoption – no

The Government has moved at furious speed in liberalising social legislation. Perhaps its boldest step is that being debated now in Parliament. The issue about civil union is essentially to remove discrimination against gay couples, though the Bill has a wider application than gays.

For many years, gays have been discriminated against. That was not only anti-social but also anti-democratic. One of the measures of democracy is the way society treats its minorities. Minorities can stand up for their actual and perceived rights. They cannot enforce them.

In recent years, the gay lobby has become far more vocal and organised than ever before. That has encouraged hitherto closet gays to ‘come out’ and add to the strength of what has become a movement.

The Labour Party, in the run-up to the general election, made it clear that, if elected, it would remove discrimination and give gays rights not hitherto exten­ded to them. It was elected, and that is what it did.

It gained favour in the eyes of many gays. It also brought about a democratic shift in the political line-up. As Nationalist leader Simon Busuttil admitted during week, the Nationalist Party had not been a party of the liberal kind in regard to the treatment of gays. Now it is changing. Whether it is changing to the extent of the Labour Party is what is currently being debated in the House of Representatives.

After considerable internal agonising, Nationalist MPs deci­ded to support the principle of civil union, but to present amendments to the draft proposed by the Labour Government. What the amendments are will be become fully known when the House considers the Bill in the Committee Stage.

What will not be known is the extent to which the amendments reflect how much compromising was agreed upon in the internal discussion, which was as much about the standing and future of the Nationalist Party as it was about extending rights to gays. The party, decimated in the general election, wants to change. But it has a traditional wing that will always treat change with caution.

In the country at large, the Bill has been absorbed with remarkable equanimity. There is barely any public debate going on. A Maltese friend of mine who does not reside in Malta but closely follows what is going on, told me he was surprised to find in a discussion with 18- to 21-year-olds that they did not know anything about the Civil Union Bill. More surprisingly, the adults present did not, either.

Adoption is not a right. It concerns a third party – the child

Far-reaching though the Bill might be, it is not reaching the bulk of our society. In a discussion of minority rights there will be a section of the majority that agrees and another section that disagrees. Apparently there is also a section that could not care less.

There is also the Church, which obviously cares but is using a tone of voice far less absolute and strident than that of the Archbishop Michael Gonzi years. It was left to Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna to speak up in a loud voice. It is telling, however, that the bishop did it as an individual in a letter to The Sunday Times of Malta, rather than in the forum of the trio of bishops that commented on the Bill.

To those who do care about what is going on, the Bill contains two issues which are of principal controversy. One concerns marriage, the other the right to adoption.

The Labour Party commitment was to civil unions, not gay marriage. Nevertheless, the Bill contains wording which might suggest that the removal of discrimination against gays in legal rights is akin to extending marriage rights to them. Labour spokespersons, like Helena Dalli and Owen Bonnici, have been at pains to explain that the Bill is not about marriage, it’s a set of legal arrangements.

That is how I see it too. Marriage has various connotations. In the Catholic sense, it is a sacrament. It is also accepted as a legal union.

Gay union, very obviously, cannot be a sacrament. It is, however, a legal union, and the Bill does extend the obligations and arrangements of marriage in the Catholic or civil sense to gays – and to non-gays who enter into a civil union. Marriage does not come into it, other than as a word, a term, to confuse the issue.

It does not truly remove the differentiation that exists bet­ween Catholic or civil marriage and civil union.

The second point of main controversy concerns the right specifically extended to those who enter into a civil union, and therefore to gays too, to adopt children.

Joseph Muscat said the right already exists. Gay individuals can adopt. If a gay who has adopted a child enters into a relationship with another gay person, there you have it.

I beg to differ. If that is the case, why go to the length of specifically stating and legislating a right for gays to adopt?

I believe gays should have rights the rest of us have. But adoption is not a right. It concerns a third party – the child. That party is the prime factor as we know it.

The introduction of civil unions does not remove the fact that marriage between a man and a woman is the natural order of things. They procreate and offspring have a right to be brought up in the context of that order. That does not mean gays love children less than natural parents. In some cases I know, they love them more. And ex­cep­tionally, it might be the case that that a child cannot be brought up by his or her natural parents.

Such exceptions should not make gay adoption a right.It is not simply a matter of legal differentiation. It is a question of reality.

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